A week back from the holidays and I’m starting to feel a little less overfed. I was very, very good this week- simple sandwiches for lunch, fruit for snacks, and hardly a dessert to speak of. But does it count as “being good” if you don’t even feel tempted to eat rich and indulgent foods? The excesses of the holidays always suppress my (ordinarily rabid) sweet tooth, at least temporarily, and I wonder how anyone can continue to post recipes for cookies and cakes in January. So as I started to think about what I could possibly make to get me out of this no-interest-in-cooking rut, it was clear that it would have to be something chock full of vegetables, with simple, clean flavors.
Growing up, my go-to soup was Progresso minestrone. I wasn’t into tomato soup, didn’t like the chickeny bits of chicken noodle, but my how I loved my minestrone. It was what I’d eat on a winter day when home from school and I’m not embarassed to admit that there may have been a stash of it in my cupboard as recently as a couple of years ago, when living in Boston. Moving out to California and living with Dylan has meant a further minimization of the prepared foods in my life. With two people who like to cook living together, it’s a rare night that we have to resort to something packaged. But I still have a soft spot for that glowing orange canned minestrone, with its kidney and garbanzo beans, little round noodles, carrots, celery, and lima beans- heck, I even miss the soggy green beans that I’d inevitably leave at the bottom of the bowl. Have my tastes for homemade minestrone been ruined?
In my search for a healthy recipe that would inspire me to cook again, I came across one for Italian minestrone (on Everybody Likes Sandwiches) that I had starred way back in December. A quick trip to pick some some veggies and I was ready to go. It turns out this was really the perfect way to start cooking again- aside from the prep work of chopping veggies, the soup practically made itself and there was little need to worry about exact proportions. Uncharacteristically, I found myself substituting rampantly and dumping in heaps of pasta and greens without a thought to measuring. Will 2008 be a year of spontaneity?! Eh…probably not.
This minestrone hit the spot on a chilly Southern California night (and no, that’s not an oxymoron, it can get cold here in the evenings!). Full of colorful veggies and protein-rich beans, it was both healthy as can be and tasty, too. While my beloved Progresso minestrone has a distinctly salty flair with the tang of flavor enhancers not found in the ordinary kitchen, this homemade minestrone just tastes fresh and bright, which I can grudgingly admit might be a good thing. With a piece of homemade bread, a bowl of this soup will warm your belly and keep you full the entire evening.
Italian Minestrone (serves 8 or so)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 rib of celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1/2-1 cup small shaped pasta (I used a cup of orzo, use less if you want a less pasta laden soup)
2 cup chard, cut into fat ribbons (I subbed mustard greens because my grocery store was out of chard)
5-6 cup vegetable broth (I subbed chicken broth)
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp teaspoon salt
1 tsp teaspoon black pepper
1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat and add in onions. Saute until soft.
2. Stir in the garlic, red pepper, carrots, celery, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of salt. Add in the tomatoes and pasta and the vegetable broth, stirring constantly so the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Add in chard, beans and the remaining herbs and spices.
3. Lower heat and cover until vegetables are done, about 20-25 minutes. (You may want to add more broth or water if the pasta soaks up a lot of it and you want your soup a little thinner.) Serve hot topped with freshly grated parmesan.