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!)
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.
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!
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.
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:
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
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!