Monday, October 18, 2010

Simple Minestrone! (easy, girlfriends, it's vegetarian)

photo by Nigel Wedge

When we lived on the little ranch, I was so fortunate to have a huge garden (3500 square feet!) as well as a good-sized herb garden. Somehow our neighbor's chickens got wind of all this and three of them began visiting every afternoon. "The Girlfriends," as they came to be known, would strut and cluck their way to our house along the roadside, undaunted by the cars whizzing by.

Now, typically, the only way I like a chicken is roasted or grilled: when alive, they are sort of noisy and smelly as a rule. But these chickens had such personality! They gossiped and argued the whole time they worked, cleaning up my organic garden. They scratched and poked around (aerating the soil) and ate bugs harmful to my garden. In the late afternoon, they would again take to the roadside, heading home. It was totally a win-win.

During that time, I began making my favorite minestrone from my garden produce. Sometimes, if I want a more hearty soup, I'll make little ground chicken meatballs to toss in. But, out of respect for the Girlfriends, today the soup will be vegetarian. Hope you enjoy!

Easy Minestrone
Serves 4-6

2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, sliced
1 zucchini, sliced
2 carrots, sliced diagonally
2 celery sticks, sliced diagonally
1/4 - 1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
6 cups (1 1/2 qt) vegetable stock (instructions below* if you want to make your own)
2 large chopped tomatoes (you can also use a small can of diced tomatoes)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
The rind from 1 wedge parmigiano reggiano**
1 (16 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup pasta such as macaroni
Salt, pepper
Italian Parsley, chopped (if desired)
Pesto, homemade or store bought (if desired)

In a large pan, heat olive oil. Add leek, zucchini, carrots, celery and green beans and stir for about 5 minutes.

Add veggie stock, tomatoes, thyme and cheese rind and bring to a boil. Simmer very gently for about 20 minutes. Add cannellinis and pasta. Simmer for another 7-10 minutes (use instructions on pasta to determine the number of minutes). Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Garnish with fresh parsley and a dollop of pesto.

* you could use store-bought vegetable stock, but it is so easy to make your own. Pour six cups cold water into a pan. Toss in:

one onion, quartered
two carrots (peel if they are very dirty)
two sticks celery
one potato, quartered
clove garlic
handful of parsley
1 bay leaf
tablespoon peppercorns, slightly crunched in the palm of your hand (smells so good!)
a few sprigs of thyme, or a teaspoon dried thyme

Boil for 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how much time you have. Strain the broth through a colander. This is 100 percent better than the canned version. You can control the salt and it tastes so fresh. It freezes beautifully until you need it. Try it!

** When I've grated down to the rind on a parmesan wedge, I toss it in a bag in the freezer. It flavors soups beautifully and is especially delicious in this soup. If you don't have a rind in your freezer, just buy a wedge and cut the rind off and toss it in! You'll be glad you did.

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