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Vegetarian Minestrone

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Truth be told, there are few things I love to eat more than a great bowl of warm, comforting and healthy homemade soup. I love minestrone and wanted to have a go-to version that I could make quickly and use on our meatless Mondays. If you’re more of a true carnivore, you can absolutely use chicken or beef broth in lieu of the vegetable broth that I suggest. You can also use ground turkey, or Italian sausage, instead of the meatless crumbles. Also, I recommend cannellini and kidney beans, but you can really use whatever you have on hand. For pasta, I like orzo, but mini shells, ditalini, or other small pasta works fine. You can even mix it altogether if you prefer and add 1 extra can of beans. I like to cook the pasta separately and toss it with a bit of olive oil. I store it separately as well and add only when reheating – this way to does not get overcooked. If you can find it, use whole wheat or multigrain pasta for an added fiber boost – it will also hold up better in cooking. Finally, I adore kale and love the extra fiber, iron, flavor, and vitamins that it imparts to this soup, but if you are not a fan, feel free to use spinach – fresh or frozen is fine. This is so delicious, healthy and quick, and it freezes wonderfully!

Ingredients

1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 medium onion, chopped
½ stalk of celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, matchstick or julienne cut
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pkg frozen Morningstar or Boca meatless crumbles
½ cup dry white wine
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried marjoram
1 bay leaf
4 fresh sprigs of thyme (leaves intact)
1 rind section of Parmigiano-Reggiano *
48 oz. container of vegetable broth
1 (15 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic (including juice)
2 (15 oz.) cans of cannellini beans
1 (15 oz.) can of dark red kidney beans
1 small head of kale, thinly sliced and chopped
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
Dash of hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup small pasta of choice, uncooked

Preparation
Heat oil over medium heat in a large stockpot or dutch oven. Add chopped onions and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add meatless crumbles, garlic, carrots and celery, and continue to cook over medium heat until vegetables are soft. If you are using uncooked real meat, add that to the pan first and brown before adding onions and all other vegetables. Next, add kale and zucchini and sauté for a couple more minutes. Add wine (red is fine too if that’s what you have), and be sure to get any brown its off the bottom of the pan. Now add oregano, marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, and cheese rind if available. Add broth and tomatoes with juices in the can. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes on medium low.

In another pot, in salted water, boil water and cook pasta as directed. Finish the soup while this cooks. Rinse and drain canned beans well and add to soup pot, continuing to simmer on low, now uncovered. Remove and discard cheese rind, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs at this time. Add fresh basil and parsley and stir in. Add juice and zest of ½ a lemon, salt and pepper to taste and a dash of hot sauce. Spoon a bit of the pasta into a bowl and ladle soup on top. Garnish with a bit of fresh grated parmesan cheese if desired.

*Note on Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind: This cheese is a high end and fairly expensive variety of parmesan cheese which offers a delicious saltiness and sharpness to dishes. Here is some more information on why this cheese is so special and coveted in many italian dishes:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parmigiano-Reggiano.

It comes in large wheels and is best bought in a small triangle and grated fresh at time of use. The wheel has a waxy rind, so most pieces you buy will have one rind piece at the end. Many cheese stores and higher end grocers who sell this product will also sell a small container of just the leftover rinds for a few pennies. If so, grab them up! They keep for quite a while and are an Italian cook’s secret to flavoring and adding a bit of richness to soups, stews and other braised dishes. Just be sure to fish out and remove the rind before serving. If you cannot find, this, don’t sweat it at all!!

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About Daphne Wotherspoon