Creamy Vegetarian Minestrone
I’m not sure if it’s entirely fair to call this a soup. It turned out much thicker than I intended, but in this case that only made it better. This is a very hearty, warming, comforting winter meal, and its creaminess totally belies the fact that it’s pretty darned healthy. In my quest to eat more like a vegetarian or a vegan, this soup is a winner.
I’ve made minestrone many times, so I’m surprised I’ve never written about it. Minestrone is the simplest soup, made up of whatever bits and odds and ends are leftover in the pantry or refrigerator. It usually includes beans, pasta, and tomatoes as a base, but there is no set recipe, and the word minestrone has become a synonym for “hodgepodge” in Italy. It’s a great soup to make on Saturday night, before you go to the grocery store, when your refrigerator is mostly bare, and you need to use up the last of whatever is on hand, and it’s an especially excellent winter soup, because it takes well to all those winter vegetables. Yes, I love minestrone and turn to it often, and yet I’ve never seen the results I saw from this most recent minestrone making.
It was a very simple accident, really, and a fortuitous one, I think. After adding all my ingredients, I raised the heat to bring the stock to a boil, set my timer for 20 minutes, and left the room without remembering to turn the heat back down to simmer. When I came back in 20 minutes the soup had thickened up like crazy, and the starch in the potatoes had broken down, making the soup extra smooth and creamy. And awesome.
Yes, this was definitely a fortuitous accident. Also an accident: This vegetarian thing doesn’t come easily to me and I added an anchovy fillet without thinking about it, which makes this decidedly not vegetarian. I think it added a little something, but I’m sure the soup would be no less delicious without it, so to be well and truly vegetarian, leave it out.
- 1 T. canola oil
- 1/2 a medium white onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 anchovy fillet
- 2 stalks of celery, sliced
- 1 large carrot, sliced
- 3 small potatoes, diced
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. dried basil
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper
- 1 14-ounce can of salad beans (kidney, chickpeas, and pinto), drained
- 1 14-ounce can of Great Northern white beans (or cannellini), drained
- 1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes
- 1 16-ounce box of vegetable broth
- about 2 c. whole wheat pasta (use a small shape, like ditalini or elbow macaroni)
- 1 large bunch of spinach, washed and chopped
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. When it's hot, add the onions and saute for about 30 seconds. Add the garlic and saute 30 seconds more. If you're adding the anchovy, throw it in now and break it up with the back of a spoon. Then add the celery, and saute for another minute or so. Add the carrots and the potatoes, and mix the ingredients well. Then throw in the basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, and a bit of salt and pepper. Stir everything up, and let it cook for about a minute.
Add the beans and stir, then mix in the tomatoes and broth, and raise the heat a bit to bring the liquid to a boil. If you want your minestrone to be more soupy, lower the heat to a simmer as soon as it's boiling. If you want thick and creamy stew-like minestrone, keep that soup boiling. Either way, let it cook for about 20 or 25 minutes, or until the potatoes and carrots are soft.
Add the pasta and cook for another eight or ten minutes. Stir in the spinach, cook for another five minutes, or until the spinach is wilted, and serve.
I love food like this: hearty and full of vegetables, flavorful, smooth and creamy, but not rich and heavy. This soup is great all week long for lunch, or for dinner with a big green salad. And who knows, in the future I may just continue to overcook my minestrone so it turns out as thick and creamy as this. I think I like it best this way.