feasting with friends

Michigan Monday: Lelli’s {Copy-cat} Minestrone Soup

Located in the heart of downtown Detroit for many years (opened in 1939), was a deliciously classic Italian restaurant, Lelli’s. It was an intimate setting with curved and somewhat private booths lining the walls. Tuxedoed waiters (typically of the male species over a certain age). Strolling musicians. It had it all. Their six-course meals were legendary.

A fire (?) forced the closing of the Detroit location years ago. They did relocate to the suburbs. Though the food is still great…this “new” location lacks the ambiance of the original. Missing that, we don’t dine there nearly as often as the “Detroit Days”. Even though our drive time is about half of what it was…

Once the antipasti was served and cleared from table, course number two would arrive. A delicious minestrone soup. Thick. Flavorful. Delicious. 

It was probably a quarter of a century ago that I got my hands on a “copy-cat” recipe. More on that later.

If you look up the definition of “Minestrone”, more than likely you’ll find a definition along the lines of “Minestrone is a thick soup of Italian origin made with vegetables, often with the addition of pasta or rice”.

minestrone soupNormally, that describes my version of minestrone perfectly.

Not today.

Today’s version is a pasta-less and rice-less soup. Just veggies…lots of veggies. My waistline…ahem…”requested” a lower carb version. Blame it on my over indulgence of all things sweet over the holidays!

minestrone soupAnd, do you know what? I didn’t miss the pasta…at all. That’s really saying something!

This is a thick and hearty soup. The thickness is achieved not using cream, but by  pureeing about half of the vegetables, a nice helping of grated parmesan and simmering the soup with a chunk of parmesan cheese rind.

minestrone soupI have been making a version of this soup for years. The old way utilized canned and frozen veggies. It was the copy-cat version of Lelli’s soup. It tasted remarkable close to the original. But… I began to have a problem with using canned veggies (not to mention heavy cream). I began to experiment with using utilizes the more nutritious and healthier fresh veggies. I still used the “short-cuts” of canned diced tomatoes (if you could see the tomatoes available in stores in my area now, you’d understand why!) and canned beans (simply to save time).

The results were excellent. This is definitely a soup that you can feel good about eating. As each spoonful of soup enters my mouth, I’m taken back to wonderful memories of wonderful meals. Special occasion meals. Meals with dear friends. Meals at Lelli’s. Ahhh…

minestrone soup

minestrone soup

Minestrone Soup

  • Servings: about 8 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
3/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cup diced yukon gold potato
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
3 cups broth/stock (use beef, chicken or vegetable)
Parmesan cheese rind (I used one about 2-inches long and 1/2-inch thick)
4 cups fresh spinach, chopped in bite-size pieces
1/2 cup fresh chopped herbs (I used basil, oregano and parsley)
15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
15 ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)


  • Heat oil in a large dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat.
  • Add the carrots, celery and onion; salt and pepper to taste. Saute until they begin to soften (I find a lid helps expedite the process), about 5-8 minutes.
  • Add the minced garlic; saute until fragrant.
  • Add the potatoes, diced tomatoes and the broth to your pot. Bring to a soft boil; then reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.
  • Transfer about 1/2 of the soup into a blender (carefully…it is hot!) and puree until smooth. Make sure the lid is on tight and place a towel over the lid to prevent and/or catch any leakage. Return the pureed portion to the pot. Stir well. Add the Parmesan rind to the pot.
  • Simmer on low for a minimum of 30 minutes. Stir in the spinach, herbs and drained/rinsed beans. Simmer at least 15 more minutes. (Note: the longer the simmer time, the deeper the flavor.)
  • Serve with additional grated Parmesan cheese.


  1. Liz

    must make! Love copy-cats–shows initiative and also just desperately wanting to recreate something you love 🙂 I would make it without the potato as not a fan of the tubers in soups, but can’t imagine it being anything besides fabulous even with that change. I do not make enough soups which is silly as I live in Minnesota where it is cold most of the year. Must change that–thanks for the inspiration!

    • Thank you! No potatoes?? NO problem! That’s what I love about recipes like this…they’re so easy to make your own! If anyone lives in a “soup-zone”, Liz…it’s YOU. Time to haul out the biggest pot you have and create away. 🙂

    • The thickness of this soup definitely helps make it a meal, Suzanne… (no sandwich required!). Pasta can always be added, of course, but I honestly didn’t miss it at all. I’m sure I’ll be rotating this soup through my own repertoire at least 2 more times before Spring has sprung. 🙂 Thank you!

  2. You see, I told you… you always make me feel at home! Minestrone soup means confort food during these long and cold days of January… May I give you a tip for the next minestrone? Try to add some leaves of kale (the Tuscan one)… I’m sure you will love it!

    • You can always call this site home, Margy! I agree, minestrone is definitely a comfort food this time of year. I love chopped kale is soups, yet I’ve never thought to add it to this one… Thanks for the tip…it’s definitely one I’ll remember next time. 🙂

  3. Wonderful Nancy, one can’t have enough soups in the winter now can one? This is a lovely soup with just the right ingredients, gonna have to make me a minestrone soon 🙂

    • Thank you, Amy… the potatoes help make the soup thick, and as long as I wasn’t adding pasta, I figured it wasn’t carb overload. 🙂 The addition of quinoa sounds great! I must remember that next time!

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