Italians are known for creating recipes that celebrate the abundance of what’s on hand, and in the case of minestrone, ingredients are gathered straight from your fridge. There are no “wrong” vegetables when making this soup classic, though tomatoes in some form are considered a must. Any combination of hard and soft vegetables will add to your soup’s flavors, and there are plenty of options to choose from when substituting for the squash.
Soup Italian Style
Minestrone starts with a broth base made from hard veggies such as carrots, onion, celery and potatoes sautéed in olive oil. Once those have cooked down, add your soft vegetables and simmer for another 15 or so minutes. If you don’t have any summer squash in the refrigerator, substitute other soft vegetables such as green beans, cauliflower or even canned beans. Anything with a soft texture will replace the zucchini and yellow summer squash often called for in minestrone soup recipes. Shaped pasta is usually added at the end of cooking to thicken and fortify the soup.
Using What's in Season
Minestrone was traditionally made in the springtime to celebrate the arrival of young spring greens. Many minestrone recipes call for dark, leafy greens, but some do not. Greens such as dandelion, collard, kale and Swiss chard are considered soft vegetables and can substitute for the squash in your batch of minestrone. Also look for leeks, garlic rapes and fresh green scallions. Other seasonal favorites include replacing summer squash with butternut or other fall finds such as turnips, rutabaga and parsnips.
Adding Global Flare
Other parts of the world have developed their own version of use-what-you-have vegetable soup, and some of these more unusual ingredients can make for good squash substitutes. Consider the chayote: a member of the same plant family as squash, but with a mild cucumber-like taste. Look for these smooth-skinned, pear-shaped green vegetables near the peppers at your grocery store. Chayote can be prepared exactly as you would squash. Pair with black beans, corn and chipotle chile to add a Latin flare. In Spain, the vegetables are roasted first before adding to the soup to bring out complex flavors. In West Africa, bowls of vegetable soup are topped with ground nuts such as peanut butter, using yams and collard greens instead of squash.
Tricks for Frozen Veggies
Vegetable soups such as minestrone are a good place to use up the odd assortment of partially used bags of frozen vegetables. Frozen broccoli and spinach are good stand-ins for squash; frozen peas and corn are vegetable soup staples. Noted cookbook author Mark Bittman suggests this technique for adding savor, rather than just dumping the frozen veggies into the pot: sauté the vegetables while still frozen by browning them in a little butter or olive oil before adding to your soup. This flavors both your soup and the frozen vegetables.