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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Slow-cooked minestrone



Sometime back in the summer, I read a recipe for Slow-Cooker Minestrone in an issue of Cook's Country magazine.

I thought the recipe sounded delicious, as well as healthy, and I couldn't wait to try it. But I did wait because I didn't want to make the soup when the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees outside.

But the gorgeous fall weather last week inspired me to give it a try.

I've seen many recipes for the Italian soup over the years, with different vegetables and different processes. Like most minestrone recipes, this one has beans, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, chicken broth and a small pasta. This basic recipe was adapted for the slow cooker by Cook's Country writer Diane Unger. In the story that accompanies the recipe, she describes how she chose her beans, her greens and her pasta.

I did make a few changes in Unger's recipe. I cut back on the olive oil to saute the onions and carrots, used only four cloves of garlic instead of eight and about one cup of fresh basil leaves, which I cooked with the soup. I also omitted the red pepper flakes and used fresh spinach instead of chard and diced tomatoes instead of whole. I didn't add additional basil or olive oil at the end of the cooking process either.

This is not one of those recipes that allows you to throw everything into the slow cooker and let it cook. There's quite a bit of prep work and advance cooking, but it's worth the extra effort.

In Unger's recipe, the zucchini, chard and pasta cook in the slow cooker during the last 20 minutes of the cooking process. I got held up at work the day I made this and had my daughter turn off the slow cooker at the designated time. I've had trouble in recent months with food tasting scorched in my slow cooker and didn't want to overcook my soup. But when I got home, the soup was no longer simmering, so I knew the pasta wouldn't cook in 20 minutes. So I improvised. I cooked the pasta (I used ditalini) and the zucchini in separate pots on the stove and stirred the spinach into the hot soup. When the pasta and zucchini were cooked, I drained them and added them to the soup as well. Problem solved.

We loved this recipe, and I felt good about serving it to my family. The flavors combine for a delicious, Italian-style soup with a wonderful garlic/ basil flavor. The combination of textures with the ingredients is very appealing, and the shaved Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top just makes it even more delicious. And make sure you serve this with a loaf of crusty fresh bread.

This recipe makes a lot of soup. We froze as much as we ate, which is a good thing!


Slow-Cooker Minestrone
  • 1 cup dried medium-size white beans, rinsed and picked over
  • 6 tablespoons extra olive oil*
  • 2 onions, chopped fine
  • 4 carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, seeded, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves chopped
  • 1/2 cup small soup pasta
  • Salt and pepper
COOK BEANS. Bring beans and enough water to cover by 1 inch to low boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until beans are just beginning to soften, about 20 minutes. Drain beans and transfer to slow cooker.

SAUTE AROMATICS. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and carrots, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and cook until pan is nearly dry, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in broth, water, 1/2 cup basil, oregano and pepper flakes and bring to boil. Transfer to slow cooker. Cover and cook on low until beans are tender, 6 to 7 hours.

FINISH SOUP. Stir zucchini, chard and pasta into slow cooker and cook, covered, on high until pasta is tender, 20-30 minutes. Stir in remaining basil and remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

Cook's Country

* I made several changes to this recipe when I prepared it. I cut back on the olive oil to sauté the onions and carrots, used only four cloves of garlic instead of eight and about 1 cup of fresh basil leaves, which I cooked with the soup. I also omitted the red pepper flakes and used fresh spinach instead of Swiss chard and diced tomatoes instead of whole. I didn't add additional basil leaves or olive oil at the end of the cooking process either. We sprinkled shaved Parmesan cheese on top of our hot soup.

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