Welcome to another Summer guest post! This time my friend Erin from Read-at-Home Mama has graciously offered to be my victim...err I mean wonderful contributor! She's not a food blogger, although she is a great cook, she writes reviews of all kinds of books. We met in an online forum for brides back in 2006, and have been friends since, even though we have yet to meet in person! She has brought us minestrone soup, which even though it's hot out here, is perfect because many of the veggies in the soup are readily available at farmer's markets now. I can't wait until our local farmer's markets start! Unfortunately around here I have to wait until the end of June 🙁 On a good note, we plant a fairly large garden every year, so I don't even always make it to the farmers market. Nothing is better than fresh from the farm or your own garden! Are you ready for Erin? Here she is!
Hi, I'm Erin. I'm a stay-at-home mama to a toddler and a furbaby. Books, dancing, and sweets are my greatest weaknesses. I can talk as easily about Daniel Tiger as I can about Scandal. My heart resides in the library, my soul can be found in the kitchen, and my spirit is always stretching at the barre...but my happiness lives in my 2-year-old. Thank you for joining me on this wild ride!
Summer is finally upon us! I know you saw the title and thought, "Soup?! Really? But it's too warm out for soup!" Yeah, I know, it's getting warmer outside...but farm markets are opening everywhere right now and there is literally no better time to get the freshest vegetables possible! I make this soup year-round and, in the colder months, I have to pick up veggies as they're available in my grocery store. But who knows where they came from, how long and far they traveled between the farm and the store, and how fresh they really are! Now that you can get just about every vegetable you want from the farm stand, you're guaranteed that they're at their freshest and besides, who doesn't love filling a bowl with every color under the delicious rainbow, right?
I'm a big fan of soup, as is my two-year-old. Now, I could go simple and just crack open a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup…or I could go for the Progresso tomato basil soup and throw together a few grilled cheese sandwiches. But I really want to go as healthy and fresh as possible, and there's really no better way to do that than to make a soup from scratch. Minestrone is one of the most veggie-loaded (and therefore nutritious) soups out there, so I'm going to share my recipe with you today!
Full disclosure, though: I’ve never been a fan of real tomatoes. I’m weird that way: I’ll eat them as soup, or as a sauce on pasta or pizza, or as ketchup on a burger or with fries with no problem. But I’ve always hated the texture of the actual tomato. Offer me some cherry tomatoes for my salad or slices of an heirloom tomato to garnish my sandwich and I’ll politely decline. There’s really no rhyme or reason behind it; I just don’t like it. So when I decided I wanted to make my own minestrone, I naturally decided to omit the red stuff. (My advance apologies to all the tomato fans out there...and feel free to add them if you like them!)
The minestrone I love to make, however, is still delicious with or without tomatoes! When Joshua was a baby, he used to vacuum this soup down like he couldn’t get enough of it; now, as a picky two-year-old, he’ll still eat it but only if I’m eating it, too. The Hubby refuses to eat it solely because there’s no meat in it. I suppose I could add chicken to it — maybe I’ll try that next time and see if it's enough to convince him.
For now, though, we’re sticking to vegetables!
So here’s what you’ll need to make my tomato-free minestrone:
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 small minced white onion
• 2 diced potatoes (if you only have small potatoes, use 3)
• 2 cups chopped zucchini
• 2 cups frozen cut Italian green beans
• 4 cloves minced or grated garlic (I prefer to grate it)
• 4-6 cups vegetable broth (depending on how “brothy” you like your soup; I usually go between 5-6 cups)
• 1 can (15 oz) red kidney beans, drained (light or dark, your choice)
• 1 can (15 oz) great northern or cannellini beans, drained
• ½ cup shredded carrot
• 2 tablespoons minced parsley
• 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
• ½ teaspoon dried basil
• ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
• 3 cups hot water
• 4 cups fresh baby spinach
• 1 ½ cups small shell or other small shape pasta
Before you light your burner, cut up and organize all of your ingredients! It makes the cooking process much quicker and easier. Because the vegetables go into the pot in a particular order, I like to “chop and drop” groups of them into separate bowls. The onion, garlic, zucchini, and green beans all go into one bowl; I rinse the red and white beans separately and then combine them in another bowl; the carrots and potatoes get a bowl of their own; and I measure all of the spices into one more separate small bowl. So before I start cooking, my countertop usually looks something like this:
Okay! Now that your ingredients are all set out and organized, you’re ready to get started! First, you need to warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
Things are going to start smelling yummy in your kitchen very quickly from this point on! Now, I’ve learned from watching the Food Network that if you dip a wooden spoon or the wooden handle of another utensil into the oil, you can tell that the oil is sufficiently heated by looking for bubbles to form around the wood. Go ahead and try that! If you don’t have a wooden spoon, that’s okay; you can typically tell if your oil is warm simply by holding your hand over it.
Now that your oil is ready to go, add the onion, garlic, green beans, and zucchini into the pot and saute them for about 5 minutes, or until the onions become see-through. When they go in, they’ll look something like this:
And when they’re ready for their veggie friends to join them, they’ll look like this:
You’re doing great so far! Go ahead and lean over your pot, and take a sniff. I don’t know about you, but I could eat these veggies as they are now! We’ll all have to wait though — there’s more deliciousness on the way! Now you’re ready for the hot tub party, so to speak. Add your vegetable broth…
…carrots and potatoes…
…and hot water and spices to the pot.
Tell me this doesn't look amazing already!!
Now you can relax for a little while! Give it a stir, bring it up to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer for 20 minutes, and let the magic happen.
By the way, two quick notes:
1. You may or may not do this, but I have been known to “check” my vegetables from time to time during the 20-minute wait. Yeah, I’m that person who leaves a folded paper towel and a fork next to the burner so I can fish out one of each kind of vegetable with my spoon, lay them on the towel to cool, and then eat them with the fork. Yup, that’s me. Am I ashamed? Not even a little bit.
2. You probably noticed that the pot in the photos above magically changed color! I promise I did all of this in one day and one cooking session. I was so excited about making the soup that I started cooking in the wrong pot — the pot in the first several pictures would have literally overflowed had I continued with the recipe. I switched over to the larger pot that I was supposed to be using; crisis averted!
Ding-ding! Twenty minutes is up!
Toss in your spinach leaves and use your cooking spoon to “sink” them into the liquid and help them wilt, like this:
And then pour in your pasta as well. (By the way, today I used whole-wheat elbow noodles to bump up the health factor and honestly, as someone who normally eats regular “white” semolina pasta, I couldn’t tell the difference — and more importantly, neither could Joshua! Score!)
Now you get another break! Let everything simmer in the pot for another twenty minutes, stirring occasionally.
While you’re waiting, you could paint your nails, or pick up that magazine you've been meaning to read, or fold a load of laundry, or play with your kids for a few minutes (if you have any)…
What? Twenty minutes is up? Already?! Yay! Let’s go check out the finished product…
Yeah, I’m grabbing a big bowl for this one. You want some??
I like to sprinkle a little shredded mozzarella or parmesan, or a few garlic croutons on my soup, and keeping some crusty bread handy to mop up the broth is always a great idea. How do you top yours? Try it out and let me know what you think!!
You can find Erin here: