Minestrone refers to a family of vegetable soups from Italy. There are several regional variations, each with its own flavor profile, but you will find that the same seasonings work well in most of them. Here are some of the best spices for minestrone:
Since it’s an Italian dish, the traditional fat for minestrone is olive oil, but butter is sometimes used as well. Both are important for enhancing the richness of the soup even though neither would be considered a spice.
Olive oil has a complex grassy flavor note that works best with tomato-heavy minestrone styles. The grassiness is especially strong if you use a quality extra virgin olive oil; butter adds richness and enhances the mouthfeel.
While minestrone is a vegetable soup, it is usually not vegetarian. The meat element is usually in the form of pancetta. Pancetta is a cured meat made from pork belly that is typically added to soups and other dishes for flavor. Pancetta enhances umami notes and saltiness to a dish. Its fat will also contribute to the richness and mouthfeel.
An aromatic herb, celery can give your minestrone a strong herbaceous note along with the brothiness that you want from a soup. If you’re going to get as much flavor from celery as possible, add it in two parts. Add it early on in the cooking process and later just before the soup is served. This gives you two versions of the celery flavor.
Arguably the most important of the aromatic herbs, onion is usually considered an essential ingredient for savory dishes. Onions are key to the flavor profile of the different kinds of minestrone.
The typical traditional minestrone recipe will use red onion, but yellow onion is a good option as well. You will get the same savory, brothy qualities from either kind, but the red onion may be a more visually appealing ingredient.
Parmesan is one of the key seasonings in Italian food and is a great enhancement to a minestrone. Unlike other soups that get a flavor boost from bouillon cubes or stock, minestrone gets its umami from the addition of Parmesan. Parmesan is rich in glutamates (the same compound responsible for the flavoring benefits of monosodium glutamate) that give it a robust, savory flavor, and it will transfer that intense meatiness to the minestrone.
Parmesan can be added to minestrone in two forms: the rind is used in the soup itself, and shaved or grated parmesan is added right before serving it or at the table.
One of the world’s most popular seasonings and one that is heavily associated with Italian food, garlic is one of the key minestrone spices. To get the full effect, you need to use fresh garlic, but garlic powder can work as well in a pinch. Garlic is essential for all the different styles of minestrone. Its sulfurous nuttiness and earthy umami note greatly enhance what could easily be a bland soup.
A basil-centered condiment typically used as an accompaniment for pasta, pesto is not usually associated with minestrone outside of Italy. Pesto is actually a traditional addition to the Genoa style of minestrone, which is slightly different from the tomato-based Naples version most common in the US. A spoon of pesto is added right before serving the dish or at the table.