I was snooping around Pinterest looking for make-ahead meal ideas when I came across the recipe for Ina Garten's Winter Minestrone Soup. I've often stayed away from making soups because they can be time consuming to make (says the girl who spends hours decorating sugar cookies) and are not always hearty enough for dinner. As I read the recipe I was intrigued by the combination of ingredients and was confident that Little B would be able to eat it as well.
My grandmother and cousin came for lunch the first time I made it, and it was a huge hit. Not only was it delicious and hearty, a hit with Little B, and not as much work as I had expected, but it made so much that after eating it for 2 straight days I put some in the freezer.
I have subsequently tweaked the recipe a little bit to make it more to my personal taste and the rave reviews continue to roll in. I typically do all the chopping of veggies while B is eats his breakfast if I am making it for lunch or snack if I am making it for dinner, as you'll see there is a lot of chopping to do.
First you brown some Panceta is a heavy pan.
While the panceta is cooking, begin chopping celery, carrot, onion, and butternut squash. The most difficult part about making this soup is keeping a busy toddler occupied while you chop all these veggies.
Add the veggies to the panceta and cook until softened. Then add in diced tomatoes and chicken stock, bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. I'm sure that Ina makes her own chicken stock but this Mom uses store bought.
Bring soup to a boil and let simmer for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Add white beans and cooked pasta. Add wine and pesto. I didn't get any pictues of this phase, I got disctracted by Little B. If serving soup immediately, add spinach and toss until wilted.
My final product doesn't look quite as pefect as Ina's but it is super yummy. I strain out the solids with a slotted spoon and feed all the yummy goodness to Little B. He loves all the veggies, white beans, and pasta.
Hearty Winter Minestrone Soup
Serves 6 to 8 generous portions
Good olive oil
8 ounces pancetta
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
2 1/2 cups (1/2-inch) diced peeled butternut squash
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes
6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (page 62)
1 bay leaf Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked small pasta, I use mini shells
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup good dry white wine
2 tablespoons store-bought pesto
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
1. To cook the pasta, put 1 cup of pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook according to the directions on the package, drain, and set aside.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat stirring occasionally until lightly browned, 6-8 minutes.
3. Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 8 to 10 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 table-spoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
5.Discard the bay leaf.
6. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. The soup should be quite thick but if it’s too thick, add more chicken stock.
7. Stir in the white wine and pesto. Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add another teaspoon or two of salt to taste.
8. Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the spinach,and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad). Cook just until the leaves are wilted. (If i am not going to serve the entire pot of soup at once I will split off a portion of the soup and add some of the spinach to it. I find the spinach gets "too wilted" if I end up serving the soup as leftovers.)
9. Serve large bowls of soup, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and serve hot.
The original recipe can be found in Ina Garten's cookbook Barefoot Contessa Foolproof.