The mere name minestra is quite interesting. It derives from the verb ministrare. To minister, or to administer in English. It neatly settles between two fundamental ideas. On one hand the head of the family handing (ladling) out food. And on the other hand a fine example of good use of few ingredients.
The difference with soup? Well minestra has rice or pasta inside. Whereas soup is eaten with bread. The Italian word inzuppare translates as soak, immerse. And refers to bread.
Whereas minestra contains local and seasonal vegetables, minestrone goes beyond. It is a typical post-columbian dish. Potatoes, corn and bell peppers are classic ingredients here. Mainly for chromatic reasons.
Again, distinguishing it from soup is the adding of rice or pasta. Ending in –one suggest it is bigger then minestra. Therefore a trifle less elegant and more filling. So it goes.
The diminutive is renowned in the Italian cuisine. Apart size, the diminutive has other effects. It expresses intimacy and even affection. As it does with minestrina. It already sounds comforting before eating it. Instead of pasta, you have your minestrina with pastina. Only diced potato and carrots are allowed.
Minestrina not meant to be served for guests but eaten alone or with people very close to you. It can be compared to a warm blanket on the couch, the blanket that when snuggled under is warming and consoling but becomes an eyesore laying there in the morning.
Minestra has no recipe. Which makes it the easiest and most difficult dish to make at the same time. You need fresh, local and seasonable ingredients. These differ all around the world. There is no exact cooking time. No indication how fine to cut the veggies. No consensus on what broth to use. Let alone what kind of pasta to add.
Sicilian versions often contain legumes. A dish of pasta with beans is amongst the most amazing dishes. When eaten in Sicily. Pretentious and inappropriate elsewhere.
Minestra vs soup
Minestra is not a fancy dish. It is but a nice and tasty way to have veggies with pasta. All attempts to lift it up are lost in advance. The mere simplicity makes it so appetizing. Only some grated cheese can improve it.
Whereas soups have no limits, minestre do. Soups come and go. Minestre are here to stay. Soup can be reheated, warmed up minestra is offensive. Eat it hot, enjoy and be happy where you are.