Have a look in your fridge - loads of little odds and sods of veg? You are sure to also have a small crumpled bag of pasta (mostly broken) with too little remaining to make a meal. So many Italian classic dishes were created during times of poverty to use up these bits and pieces that would otherwise go to waste. Papa pomodoro soup, panzanella salad, orecchiette with cima de rape (broccoli tops) to name but a few, today it is minestrone.
I do feel like I am always banging on about how to spend as little as possible on food. Don't take this the wrong way and begin believing that cheap = good. As a chef I believe that you should buy the best quality ingredients and using good technique and a bit of knowledge, stretch these to yield an end result that is tasty and imaginative but just happens to cost very little per person.
Ham hock is the star here. Buy a good unsmoked one (called 'green') and it won't be too salty, preferably from a rare breed pig. Cooking the hock yields the soup stock and after a little effort picking the meat from the bones you should have enough ham to feed four with a little left over for sandwiches. Oh and mine cost £2.
Carrots - 2
Leek - 1
Celery - 4 sticks
Onion - 1
Black Pepper Corns - 10
Bay Leaf - 2
Rosemary and Thyme - 1 large sprig of each
Ham Hock - 1
Mixed vegetables - 4 large handfuls (I used courgette, carrot, leek, savoy cabbage and peas)
Broken up pasta, any shape will do - 1 large handful, approx 80g
Fresh Basil - 1 small bunch
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Roughly chop the carrots, onion, celery and leek and chuck in the biggest pot you have with the bay, herbs, peppercorns and ham hock. Cover with water and bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Skim any scum and allow to gently simmer (covered) for 2 to 3 hours. The hock is cooked when you can easily pull the small bone out of the meat. Remove the ham hock and allow to cool. Strain the stock and discard the vegetables (they have done their work).
Chop your vegetables for the soup - make sure you cut the hard vegetables smaller than the softer ones e.g. carrots so they all cook at the same time. Bring the stock back to the boil and add your pasta and cook for a few minutes. Add the vegetables to continue to simmer. While the vegetables are cooking, pick the ham hock discarding the bones, fat, skin and any sinews. Shred into long strands but not too fine and toss most back into the soup to warm through (save a bit for a sneeky sandwich later). When the pasta and veg are cooked, check the seasoning and then ladle into big bowls making sure everyone has some meat. Finish with torn basil and a generous drizzle with olive oil.