January 17, 2009

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

I just got home from an awesome baby shower for my friend Jen A., in which I was sad to see end. I seriously could have stayed and ate and hung out for the rest of the afternoon! My other friend, Claire put together quite a nice brunch shin-dig, and I had a great time talking, laughing, and eating at Jen's party. I knew that I would want to have a lazy afternoon/evening after getting all gussied up (not really) and socializing with my buddies all morning without a kid-in-tow. It always seems like a vacation day whenever I go somewhere and/or do something fun by myself. Especially, if the activity involves other moms. It almost feels like I'm ditching school or something. The only issue is that the rest of my day is shot, because I still have a "I am on vacation" mentality. Therefore, any cooking/cleaning/productive activity is out the window. At least I know I tend to do this, so I plan ahead for it.

This recipe comes to me from a blog I read called Meal Planning 101. I was looking for some new vegetarian dinner ideas, and this looked great because it is super-cheap and easy to put together. Also, I love using the slow cooker. The whole 'throw it in and forget about it' thing totally appeals to me. Really, this recipe fits the bill for a day like today.

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 Carrots, chopped
3 cloves chopped garlic
4-6 cups of Vegetable Broth or Chicken Stock
1 can diced Tomatoes
1 can of Red Kidney Beans
1 can of Great Northern Beans
2 tbsp tomato Paste
2 tsp Italian Seasoning (or 1tsp oregano, 1tsp basil)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or combo of cheese and Parm-Reg rinds--see notes)
1/2 cup basil pesto (premade or fresh)
1/2 jar leftover marinara sauce
1 cup macaroni (cooked)

Finely chop onion and slice carrots and onion and add them to your slow cooker. Chop garlic and add. Gradually add stock, tomatoes, mixed beans, tomato paste, spices, Parmesan cheese and pesto.

Turn on low heat for 6-8 hours.

After cook time is complete:
Fill a large stove-top pot with water and season with salt and bring to a boil. When boiling add macaroni and simmer according to package directions. When macaroni is done, drain and set aside. Scoop macaroni into bowls and ladle soup over top. Serve immediately.

Jen's Notes:
I ended up setting mine to cook on high for 4 hours. I simply did not have enough time to cook it for 6-8 hours on low, since I did not get home from the shower until early afternoon.
I tried to stick to the ingredients, but I ended up making a few other recipe deviations. I changed some of the quantities, based on what I had on hand. I used different beans and added some leftover marinara sauce that I needed to use up. Also, I added only about 1/8 of a cup of Parmesan cheese. Then, I put 2 wedges of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind (about 1 inch pieces) into the soup. The long slow simmering will melt all the cheese off the waxy rind and perfume the soup with cheesy, yummy, goodness. After the cook time is over, I will just fish the spent rind pieces out and toss 'em. I always keep a bag of rinds in my freezer, and whenever I finish off a hunk o' cheese I pop it into my 'save' bag. That type of cheese is so expensive, I want to make sure I suck every last drop I can get out of it!

One more note...The original directions recommend serving this soup with fresh garlic bread. While I am sure that is an excellent accompaniment, I did not plan for it. Sigh...next time, hopefully. Instead, I think I will serve it with regular sliced bread and butter. Certainly not as fun as fresh garlic bread, but it will do the trick.

The Result:
Oh man! This was excellent! Fan-freakin'-tastic! This was easy and delicious...so full of flavor and satisfying, we hardly noticed that it was a vegetarian dish at all. I love it when a vegetarian recipe is so tasty that you do not even care that it does not have any meat in it. This soup is that type of recipe...and then some. I would say that it is a definite keeper! Everyone at my house loved it, and I am glad that we have a bunch leftover for future lunches. If you are looking for a great winter soup recipe, this one delivers on all levels.

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