I have always wondered why people seem to prefer pasta instead of rice in minestrone. Both are traditionally used in Italy, but in the United States, you are more likely to find small pasta – like ditalini – in a minestrone. I prefer rice in mine, particularly Arborio rice, which is exceedingly absorbent and gets nice and puffy in a soup. Collard greens play the role of broccoli rabe or escarole in this soup, with just a touch of bitter. And the fresh herbs really come to the fore in this light, summery version. Adding a rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano or a heel of prosciutto, if on hand, deepens the flavor.
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus ¾ cup (60 ml) for drizzling
½ yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet bell pepper, diced
½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
4-inch (10-cm) sprig rosemary
4 fresh sage leaves
2 sprigs thyme
1 teaspoon fresh or dried oregano leaves
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fennel pollen or toasted and ground fennel seeds
1 small zucchini (6 ounces/170 g), diced
1 cup (175 g) fresh corn kernels
1 pound (455 g) tomatoes, such as Oxhearts or Amish Paste, pureed and strained (about 2 cups/480ml)
4 to 6 cups (960 ml to 1.4 L) chicken stock or vegetable broth
2-ounce (55-g) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (optional)
½ cup (100 g) Arborio rice
1 pound (455 g) collard greens, stems discarded, and leaves cut into ½-inch (12-mm) ribbons
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup (15 g) lightly packed finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish
In a large pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper, pepper flakes, rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, and fennel pollen, and cook until the onion is translucent about 4 minutes. (If the garlic or onion begins to brown, decrease the heat.)
Add the zucchini and corn and cook just until the zucchini begins to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomato puree, 4 cups (960 ml) of the chicken stock, and the Parmesan rind. Bring to a gentle simmer, then stir in the rice. Cook, stirring occasionally until the rice just starts to become tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add the collard greens to the soup and continue cooking until the greens are tender for about 5 minutes. Add additional stock, as needed, to thin the soup. The rice will absorb some liquid and the soup can become too thick.
Remove the bay leaves, Parmesan rind, and the herb stems from the soup and season with salt and pepper.
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of olive oil.