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An Inspired Dinner

Tonight I cooked an inspired dinner! Last night I got out one of my favorite cookbooks, The SkinnyTaste Cookbook, and picked out a recipe that looked flavorful and fun. Last night I picked out Gina’s recipe for Chicken Pasta Caprese to make for dinner tonight. I loved the photo in the cookbook, and truly made me excited to try this recipe out.

I loved how simple and fresh the recipe was. It incorporated all of the major ingredients in the traditional caprese salad – basil, tomatoes, mozzarella and olive oil. I was really surprised by how quickly the dinner came together! The biggest wait time came from waiting for the pasta water to boil. If I had started it earlier the dinner would have come together in a matter of 20 minutes or less – a perfect amount of time for a work week dinner!

This is such a simple recipe! I started thinking about what I could add to it – more vegetables perhaps. Kale? Spinach? Zucchini? But at the same time, I don’t want to mess with the amazing simplicity that the flavors of caprese have when they come together.

My plate looked kind of beautiful once all was finished.

This dinner was so perfect for the down right summery day we had today in Boston. You heard me right summer like weather. If you aren’t from New England have you heard the saying, “If you don’t like the weather in New England just wait a minute and it will change??” Well, that about sums it up. On Saturday morning we started the day off in the thirties! Today we topped out at 82 degrees! Whatever happened to spring? It is sometimes the case (or often the case) that we go right from winter to summer in New England – and it certainly felt like that was the case today. Last week I was walking around in a quilted jacket and sometimes a wool hat. I was wearing my Ugg boots all day, even at work. Now I’m back to my Birkenstocks, tank tops and shorts.

On Sunday I went for a great run to start my training for the next couple of races I have on the docket. Last year marked the first year in a long time that I did not run a single road race. It was so sad when the calendar year went to 2015 and I realized that I had not run a race in all of 2014. So I am remedying that situation with a 10k next month.

Yesterday was my first run outside in a LONG time – and I ran almost four miles without any trouble. This made me so happy! Today I am definitely feeling some soreness in my legs and abs – but I figured that is a good sign, and shows I was working and pushing myself yesterday. After my run I was really excited to buy a frozen lemonade from the truck at the park I was running in. What a perfect recovery drink on a hot day! The lemonade along with my water was so refreshing.

After getting home from the run, I went right into the kitchen to start my lunch. I whipped up an egg and cheese sandwich on toasted bread and topped it with mixed greens, avocado, tomato and some hot sauce. It was the perfect post run lunch! I loved it.

It felt great to get out and go for a run. I know that last year I needed a break from running. I did not want to run at all. I am glad that I listened to my body and took a break when I needed it. I hope to return to running gradually, and I won’t be running every day like I used to. I hope that by doing this and stretching / foam rolling, I will remain injury free! Let’s hope so!

More soon, blog readers. Stay well and healthy – see you soon!

A Special Dinner

It might be April 26, but most days around here it feels more like winter than spring. We had one day when the temperature reached seventy – and it felt so amazing!! But the warm temperatures only lasted one day, and sadly we do not have another warm day in the forecast yet. Winter is certainly trying its best to cling on for as long as it possibly can!

The only sign of spring I have experienced this week is that my allergies came back with a vengeance! I it took a few days of my allergy medicine before I felt like I was back to myself – for a while I wasn’t sure if I had an awful cold or just my normal seasonal allergies.

Because I was feeling so under the weather yesterday, my Sous Chef took over and made an amazing dinner for me! I was his sous chef for the night and simply chopped up an onion and a few garlic cloves. I chopped some grape tomatoes, and went back to the couch where I blew my nose about twenty times. My eyes were too watery to get much reading done. Thankfully the White House Correspondence dinner was on to keep me entertained!

I don’t know about you – but to me, when I’m not feeling well, there is nothing like someone else making you a special meal. I read the other day that everyone should have a meal that they are known for – and this is definitely one that Sous Chef is known for. I feel like it’s a Northern Italian classic meal! Pasta with cannelloni beans, swiss chard, tomatoes, onion and garlic. Oh and a touch of white wine and we used chicken “hot Italian” sausage, too! This meal is a keeper – and it’s a go to meal during the winter. Since it still feels like winter here, it was perfect for last night.

Here was my plate of warm comfort food:

This meal really hit the spot. Here is hoping that soon enough I will be writing about some perfect spring food – but right now I’m eating chili, soups, and warm comfort food because it still feels like winter out there! Stay tuned :)

Banana Bread

We had a lot of bananas hanging around the house this week. I ate one almost every day in the morning, but I purposely left three bananas in the house and watched them as they got very ripe – overly ripe unless you had a plan for them. All week I had a plan – I was going to make a homemade loaf of banana bread over the weekend for us to enjoy next week. 

Sunday mornings are usually a very low key time in our house. Coffee, news, newspapers, occasionally pancakes, and always more coffee. This Sunday morning was a perfect time to make banana bread.  I started the banana bread even before my morning coffee or breakfast! The recipe is so simple: 
Ingredients 
2 eggs
1/2 C butter, softened 
2 teaspoons vanilla 
cinnamon (about a teaspoon) 
nutmeg (about 1/2 a teaspoon)
1/2 C brown sugar
scant 1/2 C white sugar 
2 cups all purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large ripe bananas 
1 tablespoon milk

Instructions 

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees
Grease the bottom and sides of a loaf pan (I used coconut oil spray from Trader Joe’s)

Cream together the sugars and butter. Once well combined, add one egg at a time, mixing after each egg. Add vanilla and mix.

In a second bowl, mash together the bananas with the cinnamon, nutmeg and milk. Once the bananas are at a good consistency, add them to the butter and sugar mixture. 
In the second bowl, add the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. I like to stir this mixture together to let the flour get a little more air into it. Add the dry ingredients into the wet, and only mix until the flour is incorporated – you do not want to overmix once the flour and dry ingredients are incorporated because you do not want the gluten to become over-activated. 

Pour the batter into your pan. It might be thick, and that’s ok. When I first made this recipe, I was surprised by how thick the batter seemed and I was worried that the bread would not come out like I expected or wanted it to. 

Put your loaf pan in the oven, set the timer for one hour. When the timer goes off, stick a tooth pick in the center of the loaf and if it comes clean, the banana bread is done.Let the loaf pan cool on a wire cooling wrack for a few minutes (about ten?) Then take the banana bread out of the pan and let it continue to cool on the wire wrack. Slice and enjoy! 

Normally I love my banana bread with a little peanut butter, Brummel & Brown or plain ol’ butter. But this bread was so scrumptious I did not need anything on top of it! I just ate it plain and it was delicious. 

Greetings from a snowy, cold town in New England!! We have been experiencing all sorts of extremes over the last week or so. We had quite a blizzard last week, then most folks watched and rejoiced as the Patriots won the Super Bowl and then, hours after the victory – more snow!

There have been a lot of snow days for schools and even businesses these days. I had a snow day yesterday, so I spent a lot of time in the kitchen making all sorts of comfort food. I slept until 9am and spent most of the morning putzing around the house, and I’m not sure where the morning went! Oh, I did spend a little bit of time watching the news – recapping the Patriots Game (great!!) and covering the serious snow storm that was making a mess of the roads on Monday morning (not great!!) I had two big mugs of coffee (that my other half made for me – they were completely perfect and comforting on a snowy, cold morning – lucky me, I got to stay in my flannel pajamas all morning, too). I ate a Digestive cookie while sipping my coffee. Not much of a breakfast, if you ask me!

By late morning I was in the kitchen starting my vegetable turkey soup that I thought would be perfect for a snowy day. I decided to roast some cauliflower to start.

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While the cauliflower was in the oven, I peeled and diced an onion and a shallot. I heated up two tablespoons of olive oil and once the dutch oven was hot, I started sautéing the onions and shallots. After the shallots had cooked for a few minutes, I added the lean ground turkey and cooked it.

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While the turkey cooked, I chopped up celery and carrots for the soup. I used a container to keep all of the vegetables together – it was really helpful!

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The carrots and celery went in and everything cooked for a bit. I added freshly ground pepper, paprika, cumin, thyme and a pinch of sea salt. After a little while longer, I added a 14 ounce can of low sodium crushed tomatoes and 4 quarts of low sodium chicken broth. While things were cooking away, I quickly realized that I did not have much for breakfast and I needed something for lunch.

I wondered about a comfort food lunch for a snow day. I immediately figured I should throw together some grilled cheese sandwiches. My other half made some great tuna to go with the sandwiches – he had a tuna melt and I had my tuna on the side. My grilled cheese was so delicious – I immediately wondered why I do not live on grilled cheese!

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It was just perfect!

For a lot of the day my sous chef was outside using the snow blower. I felt awful that I was inside and warm, and really wanted to do something to cheer him up when he came inside from the cold. I figured out a batter that would just make a few chocolate chip cookies – a fantastic treat that would not take al day…

While I started on the cookies, the soup continued to cook away:

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(I added the green beans, butternut squash & cauliflower at this point – I really like using roasted cauliflower in this soup recipe because it adds a deeper flavor.)

For the cookies it was pretty simple. Here are the ingredients for a few cookies:

1/4 C brown sugar

2 T granulated sugar

1 egg yolk

4 T (1/2 stick) of butter

1/2 T (or more – if you’re like me, I just love vanilla!!)

1/2 C flour

1/4 t baking soda

1/4 t sea salt

sprinkle of cinnamon and / or nutmeg

1/3 C dark chocolate chunks or chips

Instructions:

preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

mix softened butter with brown and white sugars until combined and fluffy (you can use a mixer, but I was trying to not make my kitchen a complete disaster, so I used a wooden spoon and mixed vigorously!) Once combined, add egg yolk and vanilla, mix well again. Once all ingredients are combined, gradually add the dry ingredients (you can mix them all together in a small bowl, but I didn’t). Do not over mix at this point because the flour will be developing gluten. Once the flour, baking soda and salt are combined, add the cinnamon & / or nutmeg and chocolate chunks.

Line your cookie sheet with parchment for best results.

Use two spoons to make the cookies whatever size you desire. I made medium sized cookies, and I came out with seven. They baked for a little over ten minutes, just until they started turning brown. If you make smaller cookies watch your oven so they don’t cook too quickly!

These cookies were amazing. I ate one a minute or two after it came out of the oven. (thus there are six in this photo):

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My other half had two with a cup of coffee after he came back from removing the snow – the cookies were still warm and it was a great treat!

Soon enough, it was time for dinner and we were enjoyed the vegetable soup that had been cooking all day. I was worried about how it might come out – but it was delicious and flavorful.

I topped our soup with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Fresh parsley or basil also would have been great – but it was the middle of a snow storm and I was making due with what we had. I was pretty impressed that we had all of these ingredients available for such a fresh tasting soup. Who needs canned soup when you have a little time and great ingredients!? (No, you certainly do not need all day to make this soup – I just decided to let the flavors develop since we had all day!)

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As for a better way to spend a snow day, I can’t think of one. I loved every moment of this day! Here’s to happy snow days during this lovely winter season. Happy cooking, blog readers!

Spinach and Turkey Lasagna

The cooler weather has definitely arrived in New England – and it is probably here to stay for a few months. One of the great things about late fall and winter is the return of comfort food! I just love making soups, stews, and other comfort foods – it is something I look forward to during the last weeks of summer. I love winter vegetables, Thanksgiving, rotisserie chicken just to name a few things.

On Monday I decided to make a comfort food dinner that would last us for a few days during the work week, too. A lasagna! I love making the my lasagna with a some extra vegetables – so I decided to add spinach to the mixture. I started with a pound of ground turkey, a pound of frozen chopped spinach, some part skim ricotta, part skim mozzarella, fresh parsley & basil, and cans of flavorful tomatoes. I was hoping I could get this all put together in an hour, so I could say this was a quick dinner for a week night. However, it took a little longer than an hour (almost two!) because I had decided to make my sauce from scratch. (You could save a lot of time by using a canned sauce – but I had the time so I went for it! You would also save a lot of time if you have more than one burner that works on your stove.)

The end result was pretty delicious if not overly healthy. My healthy options were adding the spinach, having the tomatoes (lots of vitamins in both vegetables!) subbing out full fat cheese with part skim mozzarella and ricotta and cooking ground turkey instead of beef. It was a hit.

I cooked my turkey with half a chopped onion and three cloves of grated garlic in one tablespoon of olive oil. I added the other half of my onion to a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the onion was turning translucent, I added the 28 ounce can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes and 14 ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes and a handful of freshly chopped parsley and basil. Once the sauce started cooking I added one cup of water to the sauce. After the spinach was cooked (seven minutes in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl) I drained it of excess water and let it cool. Once it was at room temperature, I added 1/2 a cup of ricotta cheese and one egg. Season with freshly ground pepper.

Once all of the aspects of the lasagna were together, I got out a 9 x 13 pan and started my layers. I wish I could say there was a method – but I just did what seemed right! As long as each layer of noodles is met with sauce on one side, you are good to go. (I used no boil lasagna noodles from Wegman’s because… why wouldn’t you?) I topped the lasagna with my remaining sauce, mozzarella cheese, fresh chopped parsley and torn basil and about two tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

I covered the lasagna with foil, let it cook for 38 minutes at 375 degrees – after I uncovered the lasagna and let it cook for 15 more minutes so it could brown up. The end result was comfort food at its best!

Our finished product was pretty great and when it first came out of the oven it was hard for the sous chef to wait ten minutes to dig in. I can’t blame him!

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Who wouldn’t want to eat something like this right away? But thankfully we waited ten minutes to let the lasagna set up (it’s really an important thing to do!) and at the end of our wait we were rewarded with some great plates of lasagna. I garnished mine with some more fresh herbs:

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I was really happy to be able to make a dinner like this on a Monday night – and I will be more happy tonight for the leftovers a meal like this always provides.

What are your favorite comfort foods? Happy cooking blog readers!!

Paleo!?

Hi Blog Readers:

It has been a while since my last blog entry! This past week every night my to do list included “Write blog entry” but it just never got done. The big reason I was so busy this past weekend was because on Monday morning I decided to try the Paleo diet for the week. Honestly, I have no idea what I was thinking – but I started it and stuck with it for the week!

You might be wondering, what is the Paleo diet. I am certainly not an expert – but I can give you a basic idea of what I have been doing for the week. First – here are the foods that I have avoided:

grains, dairy, legumes (so sad – I miss beans, hummus and peanuts!) processed foods, refined sugar, fast foods, candy, junk food, etc.

The big take away for me: no bread, no cereal, no popcorn, no pretzels or goldfish crackers, no bagels, and so on. I am trying not to think about what I can’t have and focus on what I can have!

What people eat while on Paleo:

Protein in the form of meat & seafood (grass fed beef, chicken, fish, seafood [including shellfish], etc.) fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, eggs, nuts, seeds, healthy oils (olive oil). I love any diet that lets me have avocado!

The first couple of days I had a lot of zoodles (zucchini noodles) and ground turkey for dinner. This was delicious:

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I used pesto (without cheese) as the garnish for the week. The pesto included healthy fat in the way of olive oil and pine nuts. The protein from the turkey really helped keep me going during the week and kept me full.

My first stop at Whole Foods while I was transforming to a Paleo diet I saw these “raw” cookies and picked up a package:

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I googled the Go Raw cookies and found that many people that follow the Paleo lifestyle eat them, and they are considered “ok” on the Paleo diet. I love these little cookies. I have a small handful a day, usually after dinner.

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen this week – literally a couple of hours each night preparing dinner and breakfast, lunch and snacks for the following work day. I made an egg and vegetable bake for some of my breakfasts:

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This egg bake has 4 eggs, broccoli, red onion and red pepper. I baked it at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, until the eggs were set and cooked. Breakfast was half of this and a quarter of an avocado every morning:

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It was a really good breakfast! If I needed a mid morning snack, I would have a small handful of nuts or an apple with a tablespoon of almond butter.

Lunches were often a salad, or a lettuce wrap with protein:

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The proteins for lunch were either chicken breast or chicken sausage. Lots of vegetables, too! The dressing for my salad was a little olive oil, apple cider vinegar and lemon.

On Thursday I finally had enough time to try my hand at Paleo baking! I had ingredients to make Paleo Banana Nut Muffins. I was a little nervous as to how they would turn out. I found the recipe on a website that is new to me, http://www.paleogrubs.com – for the recipe click here. I must say I LOVE THESE MUFFINS!

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To my surprise, I have seen a lot of benefits in the short time I have started the Paleo diet. I have noticed that almost all of the inflammation issues I have had over the last couple of months have stopped. I have lost weight, I am getting a great night’s sleep every night and I am getting more sleep than I normally do. Some days I have more energy – but sometimes I do feel tired and crave breads (but having these banana muffins around does help) for the most part I have more energy. It is a lot of work but it has been fun! I was also able to go out with friends on both Friday and Saturday and find things that I could eat at both restaurants without a problem. Muscles on Friday night and a cobb salad without cheese on Saturday. I even got through a movie (Gone Girl was a great movie – almost as good as the book, I thought!) with a small bag of cashews instead of movie theater popcorn – I felt like this was a big accomplishment.

I’m not sure how long I will do the Paleo diet – but it has definitely been an interesting experiment. I will post more recipes as I discover them.

Happy cooking, bloggies. Have a wonderful Sunday and I’ll see you soon!

Minestrone Soup

Yesterday the sous chef and I returned home after a week’s vacation. We spent our week on an island, a block from the beach and it was restful and relaxing. I was sad to leave the beachside community that we have vacationed at for the last two years, but when I walked into our house, I was eager to make a healthy and delicious dinner from our own kitchen.

Of course before we did that we had to do a few things – mainly unpack the car and get some groceries. We had recently received a free trial membership to BJ’s and for some reason we decided to go the one or two miles down the road and give it a try. I felt that it could be hard for a couple to shop at a place like BJs (where you buy lots of things in bulk) but I also knew there were a few things that we would be able to get and use due to the fact that we do a lot of cooking.

I was impressed with the amount of fresh, organic and even local produce we found at BJs. I was able to pick up fresh zucchini, a bag of apples for about 5 dollars, a large container of organic spinach, and a fantastic bag of onions for $3.99 (I can never have enough onions in the house!)

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The two things I did not find were white beans (sad!) and fresh parsley. But other than that I was nicely surprised by what I found at BJs. I still wish I could head over to Costco, but it is miles away and just not that convenient for weekend shops. Since we are only doing a free trial from BJs I still might see if I can make a Costco membership more useable for our situation – stay tuned.

Once we got home, I started on the evening’s dinner – it was chilly out, so I really wanted to make a soup. I decided to make a hearty minestrone soup with lots of fresh vegetables, white beans and small pastas. I got to chopping my vegetables up, and I was so happy to be back with my knife and cutting boards!

Once everything was chopped up, I added two tablespoons of olive oil to my pot and let it heat up on medium heat. Once the oil was hot, I added the vegetables and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt to the pot. Things started cooking and the house started to smell like a special dinner was in progress.

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I let the vegetables cook for 10 – 12 minutes (and looking back, I should have let them cook a bit longer – maybe 15 minutes if you don’t want a little crunch in your carrots while eating soup. Personally, I like having a crunch and I do not like mushy carrots!) After the onion had turned translucent, I added chicken stock and a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes (both ingredients were low sodium – this is very important!!! Look at the labels you are buying in the store [or use all fresh ingredients, but for us that was not possible tonight]. The lower the sodium of your ingredients, a. the healthier things will be for your heart and b. the more you can be in charge of seasoning and flavoring your recipe!) Once the liquid was in the pot, I added two medium bay leaves to the mix.

I let the liquids heat up in the pot and stirred a couple of times. Then I got to washing the spinach and parsley and chopping. I did a fine chop on the parsley, and a normal chop on the spinach. About 1/3 cup of parsley and 3 cups of spinach. I also chopped up a medium zucchini. The sous chef opened the can of beans and drained them. Because they were low sodium, I decided not to rinse them to keep some of that flavor in the soup. Once the liquid was boiling, I turned down the heat and brought the pot to a simmer for twenty minutes. After that I added the parsley, spinach and zucchini and a parmesan rind. I let everything cook for another twenty minutes. As things cooked, we tasted and decided what else to add. Some freshly ground black pepper. A smidge more salt. A tiny sprinkle of madras curry (into minestrone soup!?) As we did this, we kept tasting. It was coming together nicely!

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While the soup was cooking, I brought another pot of water to a boil and added just shy of two cups of dried small pasta and salted the water. I stirred, and cooked the pasta until it was al dente. I drained the pasta, put it back in its pot and added a drizzle of olive oil and stirred the pasta around so it would not clump together.

The sous chef also heated up our oven, and baked the take and bake sour dough bread we picked up at BJs to go with the soup.

In under an hour, this soup had come together so nicely! Everything was wonderful, and really warmed us up on a chili evening – I really could tell that fall was right around the corner. I garnished our bowls with more freshly cut parsley, freshly grated parmesan cheese and we both had a hearty slice of sour dough bread – which was such a perfect addition to this meal.

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For me, this was the perfect meal to come home to. It was hearty, full of flavor and got me excited for fall and made me feel happy to be home. The best thing about making this soup on the night we got home from vacation was definitely the fact that I had a great lunch of leftover soup and bread the next day!! This soup always tastes better the next day – so if you decide to make something like this for your family, you could always make it the night before. The flavors have a chance to develop and work together overnight and then you are left with something like this:

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Minestrone Soup:

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped

3 – 4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

2/3 C celery, shopped

1 C carrots, chopped

2 T olive oil

1 32 ounce container of low sodium chicken stock or broth

1 28 ounce can low sodium crushed tomatoes

1 – 2 cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1/3 C parsley, chopped

3 C of spinach chopped

Sea salt, freshly ground pepper to taste

1 parmesan rind

2 bay leaves

Aprox 2 C small dry pasta

to garnish: parsley, freshly grated parmesan cheese

Serve with: a crusty artisan bread or toast

Directions:

Chop onion, carrots, celery. Heat olive oil in a pot. Once heated, add onion, carrots, celery and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Stir vegetables. Let cook and soften for 7 – 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Add garlic, once garlic is added stir more frequently to avoid burning the garlic.

After 15 minutes of vegetables cooking, add the chicken stock and crushed tomatoes. Bring everything to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Lower heat and bring to a simmer. Add parsley. Cook for twenty minutes. Then add spinach, zucchini and beans. Taste and season as needed with freshly ground pepper, add bay leaves, and optional parmesan rind. Cook for twenty more minutes on low simmer. At this time, cook pasta in a separate pot. Once pasta is cooked al dente, drain and return to same pot. Drizzle pasta with olive oil – stir well to keep pasta from sticking together and forming clumps.

Prepare bread / toast and garnishes. Serve in bowls by adding pasta first (1/3 C to each bowl) and then ladling the soup over the pasta. Garnish and serve!

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