It is tempting to call vegetable beef soup "American minestrone," for it is to us what minestrone is to Italians. Like that hearty soup, its style and content varies from region to region. It also varies with the seasons. As the year revolves from spring to summer and back around again, the soup is adapted by the addition of fresh seasonal produce. In the spring down South, we omit the parsnip and use sweet young peas, fresh spinach, chard, or beet greens cut into ribbons, and, in the last 10 minutes of cooking, a cup of tender asparagus spears. In summer, we add about two cups each of diced fresh tomatoes and sliced okra and a cup or so each of fresh-cut corn, string beans, diced squash and butterbeans. As summer gives way to fall, we add a cup of diced winter squash, about two cups of pinto, great Northern or cannellini beans, and a handful or so of kale or young collards cut into ribbons.
This recipe, featuring parsnips, turnips and cabbage, is for the winter season. Regardless of the season, the best accompaniments are crusty cornbread, a hearty, substantial home-style yeast bread or toasted saltine crackers (warmed in a 200F oven).
By Damon Fowler.