Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Slow-cooker minestrone

Do you love soup as much as I do? I make soup from scratch at least once a week and I usually do it in my slow-cooker. I love the convenience; I put a bunch of ingredients into the slow-cooker in the morning, go about my busy day and have dinner waiting for me in the evening. I have a few tried-and-true soup recipes that I use over and over again, knowing that they work well and my family enjoys them.

My slow-cooker is nothing fancy. It was a bridal shower gift back in 2002. It's a Rival Crock-Pot, similar to this one sold today. I am almost sure it was the same price back when we registered for it along with our other wishful gift ideas. It remains one of the most well-used items in our kitchen, so I would say Mrs. C., my mother's across-the-street neighbor, made an excellent investment.

I've tried many different resources for recipes, including a little booklet, published by "Taste of Home" magazine, which our gift-giver included with the slow-cooker. I have also used recipes from all over the internet and as I showed you the other day with my chicken dish, I have also created a few myself. I have found that the best slow-cooker dishes are often pulled together from several different sources.

This is the case with my minestrone soup. Minestrone is a classic Italian soup which is meant to seem kind of random, kind of a hodge-podge. The name means "big soup" because it's so full of good things. The whole idea is to use bits of vegetables, beans and pasta that you have around the kitchen. It's not meant to be fancy or fussy, it's just hearty and nourishing.

Over the years I have tried around ten different recipes and with time I have perfected my own recipe with bits and pieces of most of the recipes I've tried. This recipe is based mostly on one from now-defunct "Gourmet" magazine, circa 2007, and a recipe I once saw being made on a Food Network show whose name and host I don't remember, probably around 2004. I know I'm not very helpful with the resources and citations, but it works for me.

This is a frequent Meatless Monday meal in our house, and it gives us a lot of leftovers. Technically, it isn't meatless because of the addition of chicken broth but I think it's close enough.

Ingredients

1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or put through garlic press
3 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 28-oz can (or two 14.5-oz cans) diced tomatoes (I like petite dice), undrained
1 15-oz can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz can cannellini (white kidney) beans or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
8 cups chicken broth (or water with appropriate bouillon added)
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
1 bay leaf
2 cups cooked small pasta (shells, elbows, etc.)
1-2 diced zucchini squash
1 cup frozen chopped spinach, optional
Salt and pepper to taste

First, prepare a skillet with a little olive oil in it. You are going to lightly saute your vegetables before putting them in the slow-cooker. I know, I know...it seems like it defeats the purpose of using the ultra-convenient slow-cooker, but trust me. Slow-cooker soups have so much more flavor when the vegetables get a little sauteing first. I think it gives the broth more body and takes away some of the sharper onion and garlic flavors too.

Add your chopped/pressed garlic first. Then chop the rest of your veggies and saute over low heat until the onions are beginning to turn translucent.




While the vegetables are sauteing, drain and rinse both cans of beans. You can use either cannellini or great northern beans for this soup, though cannellini is more traditional given that this is an Italian soup. They both work fine and taste good, though. For me, it's sometimes a matter of cost or availability, so I stay flexible.



I find it's helpful to spray the inside of the crock with Pam or similar no matter what I'm making so I try to do that now, and then place the beans inside, followed by the tomatoes and the sauteed veggies, with herbs/spices added on top.




Next, I add either prepared chicken broth or water with bouillon cubes. I really love to use these bouillon cubes, in both beef and chicken flavors, for my cooking. I buy them locally but they are imported from Mexico; we have a lot of interesting Hispanic foods in the stores here. These bouillon cubes are super cheap and they make delicious broth.



Give everything a good stir, place the lid on and leave it to cook on HIGH for about 6 hours. About an hour before serving, cook one cup of dry pasta to package directions and drain it. Chop the zucchini and add both pasta and zucchini to slow-cooker. If you're using frozen chopped spinach, add that now too. I also tend to add a little extra water at this point, maybe 3/4 cup, and I taste the soup for seasoning, adding salt and/or pepper as necessary.




Let the soup cook for another 45 minutes to an hour, until it's back to a boil, before serving. This additional cooking time will help the soup thicken a bit due to the pasta. It will be very hearty and delicious when it's ready. I think you'll like it a lot.


I make this soup year-round, using what I have in the house. I try to keep lots of canned beans and tomatoes around for soups and chilis. Sometimes I use green beans instead of zucchini. Sometimes I also add frozen chopped spinach; this particular time, I did. I serve this with bread, biscuits, breadsticks, whatever I have or feel like making. I love that it's a versatile meal, very healthy and hearty and so easy to put together. "Big soup," indeed.


14 comments:

  1. Hi Jennifer,

    Your soup looks great. I make a minestrone that is similar but I always add ground beef. Next time I make it I will post it. It is super easy. One of these days I will give yours a try. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

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  2. Thanks, Softie! I have never made mine with meat, I would love to see your recipe sometime. :)

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  3. This looks delicious, I'd love to make one of these again soon, though not today as we're celebrating pancake day today in Europe (or perhaps worldwide?) :-)

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  4. Hi Selma! Thank you. Happy Mardi Gras! Some people do have pancakes here on this day but I've actually never done that. I will definitely do that in the future. :)

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  5. Your soup looks hearty, healthy and delicious! Thanks for the step by step recipe! ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  6. Thank you, Teresa! You're welcome for the recipe. I like to do them this way when I can because I find it really helpful when someone goes through a recipe slowly. LOL. :)

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  7. This looks super tasty. I am a soup fanatic and we eat tons of it here in the winter.

    Jenny

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  8. Hi Jenny! Thank you. I love soup so much, it's such a staple of our diets around here.

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  9. This soup looks great. I'm going to have a go at it, thanks for posting such an easy to follow recipe. Isn't it strange how different foods get labelled in different countries? If I'd been looking for cannellini beans in the USA I doubt I'd have picked up white kidney beans. Also, I'm sure Heinz don't do chopped tomatoes over here ...I'm going to have a look next time I'm in the supermarket!.And Knorr stock cubes are everywhere in the UK and I agree, they are the best ones! Claire x

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    1. Hi Claire! Thanks, I hope you enjoy it too. You're welcome for the recipe. It is strange. I have sort of a fixation with foreign groceries, to be honest with you. I actually spend a lot of time looking at websites for grocery stores in other countries to see what is sold there. I do it for the UK a lot; I look at the Sainsbury and Asda sites often. The Heinz tomatoes were really good, some of the best canned tomatoes I've ever tried! It's hard to find tomatoes that are both no-salt-added and petite-dice so I love that they have such a product!

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  10. Yum! I put pancetta in my minestrone, and cabbage too, and use spaghetti broken up into small pieces. I love the way you can use whatever is to hand in the kitchen.

    Gillian x

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    1. Oh, I love pancetta! I have used it in pasta fagioli before but never minestrone. I will have to keep that in mind.

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  11. Replies
    1. Hi TC! You're very welcome, enjoy. :)

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Thank you for leaving a comment. It's so good to hear from you! I don't always have time to reply but I try to answer questions when I can.

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