Hearty Vegetable Minestrone
Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until hot.
Quickly add the salt pork and onions, and sauté for 5 minutes or until the onions start to caramelize. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Then add carrots, celery, zucchini, broccoli florets and salt. Sauté all the vegetables for 3 to 4 minutes, until they start to release their juices.
Add tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Then add 1/2 cup of water and stir. Add canned tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a gentle boil. Add beans and stir everything together gently.
Simmer on low heat, covered, for 45 minutes. Remove the salt pork and discard.
Take 3/4 of the soup in batches and puree in blender until semismooth (a little chunky is good), and pour back into the stockpot. Stir to thicken the soup. Correct seasoning (taste for salt, you will probably need to add more) 1/2 teaspoon at a time so that you don't oversalt. Add the pasta and stir well so the pasta doesn't stick, and cook until the pasta is al dente.
Serve in heated bowls. Add fresh Parmesan cheese, fresh basil and red pepper flakes. You can also drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil over the top, along with a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar.