Today I want to share with you my new and improved version of Menestrón. This dish, for those of you who don’t know it, is the Peruvian take on the Italian Minestrone, the famous soup made with all kinds of vegetables, beans, and pasta. It also is one of the most comforting and tastiest recipes I know—but maybe I’m biased because I’m crazy about beans and pasta, and if you put them together in one dish, I go wild.
Minestrone is one of the most flexible soups around. The only standard part of most minestrone recipes is that you are advised to use whatever seasonal vegetables are at hand. The soup can be prepared with or without meat, and have either pasta or rice added to it (I’ve never seen it with rice nor with meat, I have to say). Its origin supposedly dates back to pre-Roman times, but even after the Empire was established and richer and more sophisticated foods were added to the staple diet of the common people, Romans recognized the health benefits of this kind of simple meals prepared with an abundant variety of fresh vegetables. This is perhaps the reason why they continued to prepare them in their homes, and even gave this type of food a name: Cucina Povera which means “poor” or “rustic” cuisine.
Now let’s talk about how Minestrone travelled to South America and became Menestrón.
During the first half of the 1900’s, Peru was flooded with Italian immigrants escaping from the war, and of course, this food-obsessed people brought their culinary treasures with them. One of them was this thick soup, which they started making using local ingredients such as Lima beans, yucca, Peruvian giant corn, and potatoes. Instead of grating Parmesan cheese on top like is the case with most Italian dishes, they started adding cubed queso fresco to it, like is the case with most Andean soups and stews. And instead of adding the traditional pesto genovese to the soup for the final touch of flavor, they started adding the Peruvian version of pesto, made with spinach and called salsa verde. As you can imagine, the result is an extremely filling and calorie-dense concoction full of greens and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, but particularly rich in starches like all the root vegetables, beans, and pasta in it.
Peruvians are famous for having heavy meals where they combine several starches, but I find this a bit heavy. So I didn’t include the corn, potatoes, or yucca in my menestrón. I also used brown rice pasta to make it gluten free, and instead of queso fresco I used some vegan cheese made with almonds, but you could also substitute it with tofu or simply leave this out if you have a hard time finding good quality vegan cheeses. This will make the recipe dairy free so anyone who has a problem with dairy will be able to enjoy this delicious, warming meal. Lastly, I have to say that I used a couple tablespoons of a store-bought vegan pesto in this soup, but if you can’t find it or you want to make it the way Peruvians do, I’m including the salsa verde recipe. Click here for the full recipe.