Minestrone with Pesto

Forget the diner cliché; this hearty soup deserves respect!

Minestra is Italian for thick soup and minestrone is a large or rich minestra.

There is no rule for making minestrone. The only secret…fresh vegetables.


Cauliflower, turnips, carrots and other fresh vegetables may be used in place of or in addition to the ingredients called for.

1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 lb. swiss chard
1/4 lb. spinach
2 small zucchini
2 medium white potatoes, peeled and diced
2 japanese eggplants, peeled and diced
2 cups tubetti pasta
2 cups cooked white beans
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Pesto:
2 tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
2 cups packed basil leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. grated parmigianno-reggiano

  1. Soak mushrooms in 2 cups warm water until soft. Remove, rinse, chop and set aside. Pour mushroom water through a coffee filter and set aside. Wash chard and spinach. Trim and discard stalks from chard and stems from spinach. Chop leaves.
  2. Bring mushroom water and 6 cups salted water to boil in a large pot. Add mushrooms, chard, spinach, zucchini, potatoes, eggplant and olive oil. Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 1 hour.
  3. For pesto, pulse pine nuts and salt in a food processor until finely ground. Add garlic and basil and drizzle in olive oil. Add parmiggiano-reggiano and process into a smooth paste.
  4. Add pasta to soup. Cook pasta for about 10 minutes; add beans and cook 5 minutes longer. Stir in 2 tbsp. pesto, reserving the rest for another use, and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with additional grated parmiggiano-reggiano.


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Heirloom Caprese #2

Last month I showcased a gorgeous Caprese Salad with Burrata cheese. Sliced and simply dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, salt and pepper, it was the perfect salad for a summer pool party.

This month, I roughly chopped super-ripe heirloom tomatoes and tossed them with fresh mozzarella. I seasoned the salad with oregano, salt and pepper, then finished it with a julienne of basil and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.


© Giovanni Cucullo 2010 / 2011

Eggplant Caponata

Whenever I cook, I often reach for my cookbooks and scan them for ideas. I look at several versions of the same recipe and then approach it in my way. It’s very rare that I will follow someone else’s recipe exactly.

Last weekend, I was at a friend’s house on the Jersey shore and decided to replicate Mario Batali’s Caponata.


  • 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons currants
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili flakes, plus extra for garnish
  • 2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (to yield 4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1/4 cup basic tomato sauce, recipe follows
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 5 sprigs mint, chopped
  • 1 baguette, sliced into 3/4-inch rounds and toasted on grill or in oven



In a large 12 to 14-inch sauté pan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, pine nuts, currants and chili flakes and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until softened

Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Add the thyme, tomato sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil.

Lower the heat and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, garnish with mint and chili flakes. Serve the caponata spooned on crostini or in middle of table with crostini on side to allow guests to help themselves.

Basic tomato sauce:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Yield: 4 cups

Golden Tomato Gazpacho

One of my favorite ways to say goodbye to summer is to make a refreshingly sweet and tart Golden Tomato Gazpacho. With very little effort you can dazzle your friends by letting the seasons final bounty strut its stuff.


  • 8 large yellow tomatoes
  • 2 large yellow peppers
  • 1 small yellow watermelon
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • 3 cups sherry vinegar
  • Juice of 3 limes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Cut all the vegetables and melon into a medium dice and toss with salt, pepper, sugar, lime juice and sherry vinegar.
  2. Refrigerate and let marinate for 2 – 4 hours.
  3. Puree the mixture using a blender or hand-held burr mixer.
  4. Adjust seasoning to taste and serve in chilled bowls.


As you can see in the photo, I served the Gazpacho in shot glasses and topped it with a piece of jumbo lump crab meat, micro arugula and finished it with extra virgin olive oil.


© Giovanni Cucullo 2010

Stuffed Tasmanian Bean

You: What is a Tasmanian Bean?
Me: It’s just another name for Goo-Goots.
You: What the hell is Goo-Goots??
(hee-hee) Goo-goots or ku-Koo-za is the Italian pronunciation of Cucuzza, the much-loved Italian squash appearing at the end of summer.

This squash is also known as: bottle gourd, calabash, suzza melon, zucca, Tasmania bean and New Guinea bean.

A few blog entries ago I used cucuzza to make Crispy Squash Fries as well as incorporating some in my Vegetable Risotto. Today I decided to stuff them as I do my Stuffed Eggplant.


After baking the squash, I put all the roasted tomatoes in a food processor along with all the pan juices to make the perfect sauce.


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