There is a crisp breeze in the air (yes, even in Florida), Autumn is in full swing and it’s a perfect day for minestrone. Minestrone loosely translates as a thick vegetable soup. It is as old as Roman times when a vegetarian diet was the main stay for many by necessity based on food sources and availability. Back then minestrone often contained onions, lentils, cabbage, garlic, broad beans, mushrooms, carrots, asparagus, and turnips. Making soup this way is called “cucina povera” or poor kitchen cooking because you literally use the vegetables available to you. Based on the season and the availability of my Local Farm Fare Bag and the remains of my kitchen garden I decided to pull together a hearty minestrone for my family. There is no hard and fast rule to assembling a Minestrone; you have a collection of root vegetables, some tomatoes and beans, beans are essential as they provide protein and they are the one consistent ingredient in nearly all minestrone recipes. Even the pasta is negotiable, so if you have a gluten intolerance, you can use a gluten free pasta or simply leave it out.
The seasonal vegetables I had on hand were sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, a large Italian eggplant, big fat juicy sweet onions and kale. Sounds like a minestrone to me! All it needed were some legumes. Chickpeas and dark red kidney beans, check! Some pasta, check! A broth base? Vegetable broth, check! I keep boxes of broth on hand for just such occasions. Let the chopping begin!
I don’t know about you, but I find slicing and dicing vegetables to be therapeutic. I spent a pleasant time seated at my breakfast table armed with a good sharp knife, a vegetable peeler and cutting board with the trash can by my side for catching peels and unwanted parts. Diced Roma tomatoes, sweet onion and eggplant. The sweet potatoes were peeled and chunked. I also peeled and chopped up some “ugly” carrots, I think that is rather an unfair moniker, they are not truly ugly, just over large and broken in places, so not perfect. But their size is reminiscent of the sweet potatoes and they have a lovely flavor too. Just to vary the shapes and colors I sliced up some zucchini and yellow squash. Minestrone is one of those beautiful melanges of color and flavor. Once my chop fest was over it was time to build my soup.
The foundation of any good soup is it’s broth. I started out with 2 boxes of broth that I seasoned with fresh garlic, chipotle paste for a little kick, some dried Italian Herbs (a collection of dried herbs like oregano, basil, marjoram and sage with a bit of red pepper flake), some roast garlic powder and some sea salt. I put this in my big eight quart crock pot and let it come together while I went chop happy at the table with the ceiling fan turning over my laboring head. Once everything is chopped you just put it all in the pot, all but the pasta, the fresh herbs and the kale. Those go in toward the end. That’s it for a while — the crock pot does my work for me. You can do this stove top too. It just requires a nice large stock pot – you bring everything to a boil and then lower your heat for some simmer time broken by the occasional stirring, stove top always requires closer supervision.
Once the vegetables and legumes are tender you stir in your fresh herbs, the kale and cooked Macaroni or Bucatini, any medium sized tube pasta will do. Then close the lid again and let the crock simmer an extra thirty minutes to soften the kale and permeate the soup with the fresh flavors of the herbs. The starch from the pasta will also help to thicken the broth a bit.
During the cooking process all the flavors come together and it tastes like home, like nature and the earth and was a reminder of the season, the end of the harvest. I love a good hearty vegetable soup because it soothes me from making it to eating it and my family is getting nutrition and at the same time they are also feeling my love for them in every bite. I served ours with a light salad of mesclun greens with diced cucumbers and calamata olives in a champagne vinaigrette and a loaf of freshly baked French Bâtard from a local bakery with some sweet cream butter.
- 2 boxes Veggie broth
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp Sea Salt
- 1 T dried Italian herbs
- 1 T roast garlic powder
- 1 T Chipotle paste
- 1 can crushed tomatoes
- 3 sweet potatoes, peeled & cubed
- 2 large carrots, peeled & cubed
- 1 large sweet onion, diced
- 1 zucchini, sliced
- 1 yellow squash, sliced
- 1 eggplant, diced
- 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
- 2 cans chickpeas
- 1 can dark red kidney beans
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
- 2 Sprigs fresh spicy oregano, leaves only
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, needles removed and finely chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
- 2 C kale leaves, torn
- 8 oz Box Macaroni, cooked
- Pour the broth into a large crock pot and stir in the salt, dried herbs, garlic powder, chipotle paste, chopped garlic cloves and the can of crushed tomatoes.
- Set the crock on High, close it and let it come to a boil while you prep the other ingredients.
- Add everything but the kale, macaroni and fresh herbs to the seasoned broth in your large crock pot.
- Seal the lid and cook on high for one hour, then lower the heat to medium for 2 more hours or until the veggies are tender.
- Prepare macaroni according to package directions, drain and add hot macaroni to the pot.
- Stir in fresh herbs and kale and allow to simmer on medium an additional 30 minutes.
- Serve in big bowls with bread and be happy!