In Italy, cooking is still mostly seasonal and regional. So if you travel there in November, do not expect to find a fancy trattoria offering the exquisite salad of tender wild greens that you enjoyed during a springtime visit. And, when in Naples, in southern Italy, don't ask for the dark wheat pasta di farro you enjoyed in Bari, a city on the eastern, Adriatic coast. In both cases, puzzlement may be all you'll get.

The culinary terms Italians use are also deliciously particular and elusive. Zuppa, minestre and minestrone all refer to types of soup. Zuppa is generally a meal in a bowl, dense and full-bodied, or like a stew. Frequently, it is served ladled over bread. Minestre are more often soups Italians consider a first course although, with their rice or pasta, they, too, may be such hearty fare we would declare them a satisfying meal unto themselves.

The definition of minestrone is decidedly more variable. Essentially made with vegetables, it often includes beans and pasta. Generally, there is enough liquid to qualify it as soup. You can find both summer and winter minestrone, each using what is available at the market. This "Minestrone Verde" includes summer's tender green peas, zucchini and spinach, as well as the leeks, potatoes and canned tomatoes traditionally used in winter.

Summer is blisteringly hot in much of Italy, so this minestrone is often made in the cool of the morning, to serve at room temperature at mid-day. Italian cooks, economical with both money and time, generally make this, and most soups, using water rather than broth. (But as a practical compromise, sometimes they drop a bouillon cube or two into the pot.)

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Italians eat a variety of vegetables every day, thanks to soups like this. It is a meal enjoyed at home, where they eat more lightly than at a restaurant. We would be wise to do the same.

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Green Minestrone

Makes 6 servings.


  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 scallions, chopped, white and green parts
  • 1 medium leek, white part only, halved and sliced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 celery rib, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium, fat-free chicken or vegetable broth
  • 12 green beans, or 1 cup frozen, cut in 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 small zucchini, cut in 1/2-inch slices
  • 3 cups stemmed fresh spinach leaves, or coarsely chopped Swiss chard
  • 1 cup canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Saut� scallions, leek, onion and celery until onion is translucent. Cover, reduce heat and cook gently 5 minutes, or until vegetables have released their juices and softened.
  2. Add broth, green beans, potato and zucchini. Simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Stir in spinach. Add canned beans. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until beans are heated through, about 5 minutes.
  3. Ladle soup into bowls and serve, topped with some of the cheese. (Soup keeps up to three days if covered and refrigerated.)

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
111 calories,
3 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
17 g. carbohydrate,
6 g. protein,
5 g. dietary fiber,
532 mg. sodium.
Diabetic Exchanges: 1/2 Bread, 2 Vegetable, 1/2 Fat