DENVER — One of the things I love about soup is that it’s a comforting meal any time of the year. When the ingredients are ALWAYS in my pantry and crisper drawer, that’s even better! It saves me unnecessary trips to the supermarket, and these days as we grapple with new variants and winter driving conditions, that’s saying a lot!
When I was in eighth grade, we lived near Chicago. Every now and then, my parents would treat my sisters and me to dinner at a downtown Italian restaurant we all loved. It was cozy, always busy, and the air was filled with the shouts of waiters and tantalizing aromas of garlic, pasta, tomato sauces, and other delightful savories. I can’t recall the name of the place, but we called it Luigi’s because he was our favorite waiter. Every meal started with a cup of delicious minestrone – rich with tomato broth and thick with beans, carrots, and onions.
Years later, while writing my first cookbook, The Family Table, I thought about those precious family times and how much I looked forward to those cups of minestrone and the meal that followed. Thus, began the creation of my Old Chicago Minestrone recipe.
When I first developed the recipe, I sauteed the aromatics with bacon, and stirred in a chicken-based broth and canned tomatoes. These days, I substitute olive oil for the bacon and cook with vegetable broth, canned tomatoes, plus a five-ounce can of tomato juice. By slowly simmering the mixture for an extended time before adding the beans, and later the pasta, this vegetarian soup yields the same depth of flavor I remember from my childhood.
Minestrone traditionally contains pasta, but one problem with pasta in soup is it can become soggy while cooking and fall apart. This is especially so when reheating, so here’s a cook’s tip I’ve learned along the way. Rather than adding pasta to the entire pot, I determine the amount of soup I’ll need for a given meal; then add pre-cooked pasta shells during the final ten minutes only to the portion I’m about to serve. This way, the pasta is perfectly al dente when ladled into bowls.
A steaming bowl of Old Chicago Minestrone is nutritious, satisfying, and so comforting on a winter night or after a long day. And when it comes to comfort, Nurses lead the way. These endless months of the pandemic have tested us all, but nurses have shown tremendous dedication and fortitude in the face of this crisis. So, today I want to give a shout out to Nurses everywhere, and to my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing. Thank you for ALL you do!
Take Care. Stay Safe. Find The Joy!
Old Chicago Minestrone
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped celery, about 2 stalks
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, rinsed, peeled and sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 15-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup water
1 5.5-ounce can tomato juice
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Dash of sugar
1 15.5-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 15.5-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15.5-ounce can cannellini or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
kosher salt, to taste
5 mustard or kale leaves, rinsed and chopped (optional)
2 cups small pasta shells, cooked and drained
Preheat a large stockpot over medium heat, add olive oil, and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Stir in celery, onion, and carrots. Cook vegetables 4 to 5 minutes until they are just tender. Add garlic, stir, and cook 1 minute more.
Add tomatoes, vegetable broth, water, and tomato juice. Season the soup with oregano, black pepper, and sugar. Cover and bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes or until the vegetables have softened.
Stir in garbanzo beans, kidney beans, and cannellini or Great Northern beans. Cover and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in mustard leaves and cooked pasta. Season with kosher salt and additional oregano if needed. Cover and heat 10 minutes more.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
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