This bountiful dish is eaten for lunch every day by the world’s longest-lived family, the Melises. Traditionally, it is made with whatever is growing in the garden, but it always includes beans and fregula, a toasted pebble-size semolina pasta that is popular in Sardinia. Fregula can be purchased at Italian markets or online. If you can’t find fregula, any tiny pasta, such as Israeli couscous or acini di pepe, will do. My version also takes a little time to cook. As Gianni Pes points out, a longer cooking time melds the flavors and enhances the bioavailability of more nutrients, such as the lycopene in tomatoes and carotenoids and other antioxidants. A shorter cooking time will make a tasty dish as well, but nutritionally inferior. Traditionally, the minestrone is accompanied with slices of pane carasau, or Sardinian flat bread.
Tip: You can vary the beans in the minestrone: pinto beans make a good substitute for cranberry beans; great northern or cannellini beans, for the favas.
Tip: Use the stalks and fronds that come off a fennel bulb for the most intense flavor. No feathery fronds on the bulb? Add a teaspoon of fennel seeds to the aromatic vegetables you sauté to begin the dish.
Tip: Add other fresh vegetables from the garden or market, such as zucchini, cabbage, green beans, and cauliflower or broccoli florets.
Tip: Want a stronger tomato taste? Stir in a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. You get the idea!