But first, some introductory info (it goes without saying that if you are really really hungry you can skip to the next step).
The Italian word for soup is minestra. The suffix -one is common in Italian to obtain the augmentative version of many nouns as it is the case here: hence, minestrone literally means nothing more than "big/rich soup". Therefore, when in English we say Minestrone soup we are actually saying something like "big soup soup". Minestra has also its diminutive form with the suffix -ina: minestrina. It is interesting to note that while Minestrina and Minestra are feminine nouns, Minestrone is masculine. Why is that, I have no clue. Finally, soup also translates into the Italian word zuppa, where the common Germanic origin is evident. The difference between the two is that while you can find pasta or rice in a Minestra dish, that is never the case for zuppa where sometimes bread can be added.
Now, how can you tell if what you are slurping off the spoon is minestrina, minestra or minestrone? Here is a mini guide:
Minestrina - translates to broth in English and broth is what you get: generally vegetable or chicken bouillon (stock) from a cube with some kind of small/tiny pasta in it. Optional, a sprinkle of Parmigiano/Grana Padano chesse on top. Most often served to babies or ill people, if you are older than 6 and enjoy good health I doubt you will ever try minestrina (and - between you and me - you won't be missing out much, as this is not exactly a gourmet dish)
Minestra - typically uses several ingredients, a couple of which determines the dominant flavours and sometimes the name of the dish as well. Unlike minestrone, fish and meat are often used and there are prominent regional specialities.
Minestrone - usually prepared from freshly available vegetables, the ingredients to make minestrone vary depending on season and geographical location, although an essential core can be identified in onions, celery, carrots, potatoes and beans. The absence of fish or meat certifies its poor origin and the addition of pasta is not uncommon (broken spaghetti being one popular option).
If you are still unsure you can spot or cook some Italian Minestrone, then read on...
DISCLAIMER: This instructable contains explicit pictures of raw and cooked vegetables. Please be considered towards your kids when browsing these pages or attempting to prepare minestrone: 9 out of 10 are not going to like it. The author takes no responsibility for the hard time this dish might give when served to children.