Posted by: marthabernie | April 19, 2015


I watch GOOD MORNING AMERICA each morning from 7 to 8 am, then I switch to the TODAY Show for an hour.  I used to watch TODAY exclusively, but with the departures over the years of Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira, and finally Anne Curry, I just don’t like their first hour line up any longer.  And truth be told…I cannot stand watching Savannah Guthrie.  I am sure she’s a lovely person, but for some reason, I just cannot take her seriously.  It probably has something to do with her running, screaming across their outdoor plaza when they had frogs on the show for a Mark Twain Calavaras County segment.  I mean, no doubt the woman is making millions…yet she ran, screaming, away from a frog when someone pointed it in her direction.  That’s what I think of when she’s attempting to do a serious interview and it always makes me turn to something else.  So I started watching GMA from 7 to 8.  I go back to TODAY at 8 am and watch their special interest segments if they are presented by someone other than S.G.

It was during one of TODAY’s 8 am hour segments on longevity that I recently came across this recipe. They were interviewing Dan Buettner, who has written a book about the five places in the world where people live the longest:  Ikaria, Greece; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Okinawa (Japan) where the women live especially long and eat more tofu than anywhere else in the world; Loma Linda, California where there is a high concentration of Seventh Day Adventists who do not eat meat;  and then the island of Sardinia (the Ogliastra Region), off the Italian coast.  On Sardinia, one family has been studied for a few decades…the Melis Family…where the men live to be a 100 or more, and they do not die from heart disease, cancer or Alzheimer’s…they die from old age.  Buettner noted that meat is eaten once a week on Sunday, not every day; fish is eaten occasionally but not in large quantities – 3 or 4 oz at most; and they drink the local wine made from Grenache grapes with every meal…yes, every meal!  They eat unleavened bread, cheese made from goat’s milk and lots and lots of fruits and vegetables.  They also eat whatever is growing in their own garden at any given time of the year, and every day they eat at least one cup of beans in the family minestrone soup.  They use a lot of fava beans, cranberry beans and chickpeas (garbanzos) in this soup, but the experts say any type of bean is just fine.  Lentils are also good.

When they did a demonstration making the soup on TODAY, they emphasized the use of fennel, as this is also something they eat in many, many dishes.  And when I say they emphasized fennel, I mean they REALLY EMPHASIZED the fennel.

So I went to the store to buy fresh fennel and guess what?  Had to go to three markets before I finally found one that had it in the produce department.  It has a licorice like flavor and is sometimes called Aniseed or aniset; it comes in a couple of varieties but true fennel grows with an edible bulb on the bottom and leafy stalks on top.  On tv they used the fern-like shoots from the stalks in the minestrone, but I also chopped up a little of the bulb and threw it in as I have sometimes baked fennel with other root vegetables and found the flavor very nice…it just isn’t something I use as a go to all the time.

The recipe below did not come with specific instructions, but I cooked the onion and garlic in the olive oil and then started throwing things in, using the juice the tomatoes were packed in for liquid.  And even though there is a lot of tomato in the soup, it doesn’t taste so much of tomato once it has simmered for a few hours.  If the broth looks low, add some water half way through.

I learned something interesting while the minestrone was simmering…that fennel has a very calming effect.  I moved recently and am still living among boxes…sealed boxes, partially unpacked boxes, empty boxes…lots of boxes.  My two house cats, Lucy and Boomer, did not take the move (or the downsize) well.  They don’t particularly like each other under the best of circumstances, but in our last residence, they had plenty of room to have their own space.  Now with less space and a new environment, tempers are short and for the first few weeks (after Lucy decided she was not going to live in the master closet for the rest of her life), there was a lot of hissing, spitting and growling when the two were in the same room at the same time.  And I cannot emphasize the words “A LOT” enough!  Also, Boomer would leap on Lucy (half his size– 18.8 pounds v. 8 pounds) for no apparent reason…just to exert his male dominance in the new space, I think.  I ordered cat pheromone diffusers online and waited for them to arrive (this helped calm them down the last time we moved).  In the meantime, I was simmering the soup…

The cats aren’t the only ones feeling the stress of moving…I was not far behind them.  As the aroma of the heavily fennel-infused minestrone was spreading throughout the house, I suddenly realized that I was feeling less stressed for the first time in months!  I had a bowl of soup with a glass of wine containing Grenache grapes, and I actually felt RELAXED!  Then I noticed something amazing…the two enemy cats were sitting together in the dining room, their noses occasionally in the air, sniffing the minestrone aroma!  No hissing, no spitting, no growling, no surprise attacks!  By the next morning, most of the aroma had left the kitchen, and they were back to hissing at each other again.  I went online and researched fennel and found that it is often used for its calming effect in aromatherapy.  Interesting.   Even more interesting…I have been eating the soup for lunch most days the past week and in the afternoons, my blood pressure, which normally goes up after lunch, dropped to a very acceptable level whenever I ate the soup.  I am sure this has something to do with why the Sardinians live longer than the rest of us…

I made a much larger batch, undercooked the beans slightly (after soaking for a few hours) so they would not become mushy with reheating, froze it in smaller containers, and I sprinkled a little grated Pecorino cheese (sheep’s milk) on top with some white pepper.  Oh…don’t use salt and pepper to season the soup until AFTER it is cooked and you are ready to serve it.  I don’t find it really needs salt.  This is another tip from the Sardinians.

If you want to find out more about Dan Buettner and his book, simply google Sardinian longevity diet and all sorts of articles will come up.  There are also lists of foods from all five “longevity” areas online.   The Seventh Day Adventists, for example, do eat salmon but no meat of any kind.  A recent study showed that Seventh Day Adventists who ate fish once per week lived longer than total vegetarians. They also eat a lot of sour dough bread (not the yeast kind) and whole grains including oatmeal and whole wheat bread.  The Japanese eat tofu, green tea, Shitake mushrooms and brown rice.  The Costa Ricans and Greeks eat more fish, but like the Sardinians, not in huge quantities.  Lots of beans, rice and squash for the Costa Ricans.

There has also been a study about combining olive oil with cooked tomatoes, which is also supposed to be very beneficial, and this recipe covers that theory as well.

Anyway, here the recipe.  The soup is actually quite good, and since I really like Minestrone to begin with, I can see doing all sorts of things with it throughout the year (i.e. cauliflower florets and chopped baby spinach).


1/2 cup dried peeled fava beans

1/2 cup dried cranberry beans

1/3 cup dried chickpeas

7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped (about one cup)

2 medium carrots, chopped

2 medium celery stalks, chopped

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 – 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

3 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced

1-1/2 cups chopped fennel

1/4 cup loosely packed fredh Italian flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

2/3 cup Sardinian fregula, Israeli couscous or acini di pepe pasta

1/2 teaspoon salt (if desired, after simmered)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (add after simmering)

1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 2 oz).


Let me know if you try this soup!





  1. Did you have any trouble finding the fregula?


    • Yes. When they made it on the TODAY show, they said any small pasta or couscous would work; I actually have not added any pasta to the two batches I have made but bought some orzo to add to the next batch. The beans soak up a lot of the liquid when you reheat and added the pasta will soak up more, so use it sparingly. You might also want to consider semolina pasta since they cook a lot with semolina.


  2. I found the fregola (that is how it is spelled on Amazon) online and bought it for $8. Using it sparingly! But the toasted little balls give it a nice texture 🙂


    • I have found that you can locate just about anything on Amazon!


  3. How long do you cook the soup for? Can you give the instructions for prep and cooking? Thanks.


    • The 5th paragraph of the post gives as much information as I know. I would simmer for at least two hours, and chop the vegetables into bite size pieces.


  4. I’ve just made and tasted this minestrone soup, quite good. It’s amazing how this Sardinian family can eat the same soup for lunch each day never fail. I will make an attempt to do that everyday, not sure what to do when I get bored though.


    • I know what you mean…when I make this soup, I get tired of it after a couple of weeks.


  5. Made the soup recipe with 2/3 cup acini de pepe. Haven’t tried it yet but it seems to have too much pasta & doesn’t look like the picture of the soup on the Today show. Is the measurement for the pasta too much?


    • I have not had an issue with the pasta being too much. I wonder what happened?


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