I know purists may shudder at the notion of putting together a version of minestrone in 15 minutes, but it’s precisely the integrity of such a classic recipe that makes it a good point of departure. Admittedly, for speed we have to omit slow-cooking vegetables like carrot, cabbage, and fennel. Leek must take the place of onion, with quickly cooked pasta – like bows – instead of macaroni. For once I’m resorting to cans – tomato and kidney beans, but I think you’ll be surprised what a satisfying soup can be simmered in such a short time. This recipe begs to be made in larger quantities, as slicing more vegetables scarcely increases work time. Serve the soup right away to capture the burst of vegetable flavours; with a loaf of Italian bread, Fifteen-Minute Minestrone becomes a meal in itself.

Serves 4
4 cups/1 qt water
1 bay leaf
1 leek, sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
170 g/6 oz slice of country ham, sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 small zucchini, quartered and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup pasta bows
1 small can of plum tomatoes (8 oz)
1 small can of white kidney beans (8 oz)
4 sprigs of leaf parsley, to decorate
Grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)

1. Bring the water to a boil with the bay leaf in the soup pot.  Trim the root and tough green tops of the leek and slit it half lengthwise. Slice it across as thinly as possible they take longest to cook so they are sautéed apart from the others.

2. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add celery, zucchini, and leek with some pepper. Cover with foil and let cook gently until soft, 8-10 minutes: Drop into the pan of boiling water and add a little pepper – remember that the ham will add more salt. Stir in the pasta and replace the cover.

3. Drain the tomatoes and add the juice to the soup. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them, With the can of beans and their liquid.

4. By now the leeks and celery should be soft. Stir them into the soup, with the ham and garlic. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes to blend the flavors.

5. Discard the bay leaf and adjust the seasoning (salt may not be needed as the ham is salty). Spoon the soup into bowls and top each with a sprig of parsley. Serve grated Parmesan cheese separately.