Tonight is one of those nights where I am tired and want something for dinner that is simple to prepare, satisfying, and will leave me with plenty of leftovers to get me through the rest of the week. Soup is one dish that fills all of those requirements for me, especially during the cold days of winter. This minestrone has ingredients that I almost always have in the fridge, in the pantry, or in the freezer. It’s a great way to clean out some veggies in the fridge (like that celery that is waaaay past its prime and is more limp than an overcooked spaghetti noodle) and open up some space in the pantry. Plus, it’s hearty enough to satisfy even my pig of a husband, who eats soup by the trough-load (“It’s mostly water anyway,” he says).
There is a fair amount of prep work for dicing the vegetables (unless you have frozen ones, in which case this recipe will come together that much more quickly), but I don’t mind the process of chopping and dicing vegetables. I find the repetition and rhythm soothing. Perhaps my favorite thing about this recipe is that it is completely forgiving: you can add, delete, and modify the amounts of ingredients to suit your taste buds. (You will notice that I have a slight obsession with garlic, but please also note that I do not have a vampire problem in my neighborhood.)
Easy Minestrone (Makes a 6 quart pot, which will feed a lot of people! Great for potlucks.)
1 tablespoon oil
2 carrots, diced small (about 1/4″–you can leave the pieces larger, but the smaller they are, the faster they cook!)
2-3 celery small celery stalks, diced small
2 small potatoes, diced small
1 small onion, diced small
2 small bulbs garlic, smashed and chopped fine
1 tablespoon concentrated vegetable stock paste, optional
12 cups water or vegetable stock
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon each of the following dried herbs: parsley, basil, oregano, summer savory, marjoram, sage, and thyme (if you have fresh herbs by all means use ’em if you got ’em and adjust the amounts to suit your taste)
1/2 lb. ditalini or other small pasta (you could use stars, alphabets, small macaroni–have a little fun with it)
1 14 oz. can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
1 14 oz. can cut green beans, drained
2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes, undrained
8 oz. frozen chopped spinach
salt to taste
shaved or grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, onion, and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this time you can add the concentrated vegetable stock paste, if you are using it. Add the water or vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften.
*Note: I used a little bit of vegetable stock paste more out of habit than necessity. And I used water instead of vegetable stock because with all of the vegetables simmering for that period of time, you are basically creating your own vegetable stock. So my advice would be to save your money and use your precious vegetable stock in another recipe where it will be more appreciated.
Once the vegetables begin to soften, add the pasta and cook for another 10 minutes or until the pasta is nearly done. Add the canned garbanzo beans, green beans, tomatoes, and frozen spinach. Cook until heated through. Salt to taste. Do this last because the vegetable stock and canned vegetables have some salt and you don’t want to oversalt your soup. Also, if you choose to garnish your soup with the Parmesan, bear in mind that it is a salty cheese and will add a surprising amount of salt flavor to your bowl.
One more confession: as I was adjusting the final salt and flavor to the soup, I felt something was missing…more garlic. But the bulbs I used were very, very small (they were the runts in my garden last year), so in total I probably only had about 1-1 1/2 tablespoons garlic in the soup. I added about 1/2 teaspoon of roasted garlic powder that I made myself last fall from my own crop of garlic. It did the trick. There is something about the depth of flavor with roasting the garlic that just adds something special to any dish. Since I am not aware of any place that sells roasted garlic powder, I will share with you in a future post how to make your own. It’s ridiculously easy and super-duper delicious.