This soup uses some of the less "flashy" items we grow: dried beans, canned tomatoes, chard, onions, garlic, carrots, and parsley. The vegetables that get us through our (yes, very mild) winters and the ones that can be kept sitting for a while in your fridge or pantry ready for you when you've got time for soup making.
I love the process of making this soup. It takes a bit of time - washing, peeling, chopping, stirring the vegetables - but it can be such a relaxing way to spend a couple hours. Make it a nice experience. Listen to music, set out all the ingredients, have your kids peel the carrots, enjoy the smells as the soup cooks.
If the instructions below seem lengthy don't be intimidated! You can get almost all of the ingredients at the Dirty Girl Produce farmers market stall and the recipe doesn't require any fancy kitchen techniques, just a little time for each step.
I often make this recipe for friends with new babies since it travels well. I've also served it to dinner guests. It makes a delicious, homey meal - served with good bread and a simple green salad - and allows you to relax with your guests rather than hovering by the stove. It can easily be modified for vegetarian and/or gluten-free diets. There's always extra left over for lunches and it gets even better overnight as the flavors come together.
Vegetable and Bean Soup (also known as Minestrone or Pasta e Fagioli)
One cup dried beans, Cannellini or Cranberry
One large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
3 large or 6 small carrots, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 cup)
3 celery stalks, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 or 2 jars Dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes (peels removed)
6-8 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, bean stock or water
1 bunch chard or kale leaves, chopped into bite sized pieces
Roughly 3 cups cooked brown rice, quinoa or bite sized pasta
Prepare the dried beans: The night before you make the soup put one cup of dried beans (any kind, but I usually use our Cannellini beans) into a pot and cover by 2 inches or so with water. Let sit overnight. If you don't do this step an alternative is to bring a pot of beans and water to a boil, then turn off the heat and let the pot sit for one hour. Either way, then pour out the water the beans have been soaking in and refill the pot with water, again covering the beans with about 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add a big glug of olive oil and salt. Start checking the beans for doneness after about 40 min. but it may take a while longer for them to be fully cooked. Do not undercook the beans. While the beans are simmering prepare the other elements of the soup.
Prepare the tomatoes: Pour tomatoes into a separate bowl and pull out and discard tomato peels. Use your fingers so that you separate the peel from the tomato flesh.
Make the soffritto (or mirepoix): This is the flavor base of the dish and consists of celery, onion and carrots. If, for example, you don't have large yellow onions, use Cippolini onions or leeks. That's fine. Heat a large soup pot and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add onion, carrots, and celery. Cook for 15 minutes or so on medium heat stirring occasionally. Vegetables should begin to soften. Reduce heat if onions begin to brown.
Add garlic to soup pot and cook for a few minutes. Stir in tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes or so. Add a bit of salt.
Add 6-8 cups stock (chicken stock, vegetable stock, bean broth or water). This is an element where there's a lot of flexibility. I like to make my own chicken stock using the leftovers from whole roasted chickens so I use a combo of chicken stock and bean broth for this soup. If the beans you've been cooking are done then scoop out the bean broth to add to your soup. Or if you have good chicken or vegetable stock then add that. Water even works if you don't have enough of the other stocks. The only warning I'd give is that canned/boxed chicken stocks tend to be very salty so add half the amount, taste and add water for remaining amount if needed.
Bring soup to a boil, add chard or kale, and then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so.
Add cooked beans. Start by adding a cup or two and see if you like the amount per spoonful. You can make the soup more bean-rich or not depending on what you like. My kids really like beans so I tend to add a lot.
Add cooked brown rice, quinoa or bite sized pasta. Again, use what you like and/or what you have on hand already. The amount you add to the soup should be based on how thin or thick you like your soup to be. If you add pasta it will swell up and absorb the broth as the soup sits. This doesn't bother me and I like the "swollen" pasta noodles but if you don't like this then add the pasta right before eating rather than in advance.
Taste and add salt and black pepper as needed. Top with roughly chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley (it adds freshness and bright color) and grated Parmesan cheese.
Once you've made the soup and gotten the hang of it feel free to swap or add ingredients based on what's in season or what you already have. For example, I often replace the chard with french or Romano beans in the summertime. Or I've included roasted cauliflower simply because I had extra in the fridge.
Let me know if you make it and how it comes out!