Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tuscan vegetable soup

Welp, guess that's a wrap!  It's the morning after a heart-breaking loss and the official end to the Penguins' rollercoaster of a season.  I'm mentally exhausted... and I think I may have developed a small ulcer last night while watching the game.  But I'm not nearly as upset as I thought I'd be.

Maybe it's because we were playing without two of the best players in the world for half of the season.  Maybe it's because this season's list of injuries takes longer to read than Tolstoy's War and Peace.  Maybe it's because, at one point, 60% of our roster was composed of a minor league squad.  Maybe it's because, despite all of that, the Penguins managed to put together one of the most exciting seasons in their history (Winter Classic, HBO's 24/7, etc.).  It's been one heck of a season.

But maybe, just maybe, it's because I completely bucked routine -- I had ice cream before a delicious dinner and loved every second of it. 

The thunderstorms couldn't keep us from heading out for 31 cent scoop night, even if we had to scratch plans to enjoy a walk there.  For her -- cookies and cream.  Ohmygosh, I forgot how much I loved this flavor!  The Oreo cookies are soft but the center is still creamy.  I love finding almost whole cookies in my ice cream... yum!  For him -- chocolate chip cookie dough... maybe I sampled a bite, you know, for a quality check.  Did you make it out to enjoy a scoop?

And then I came home, belly full of sugar and cookies, and did something unexpected.  I whipped up a batch of the best vegetable soup you'll ever taste and, um, added some chicken, all in under 15 minutes!!  Say hello to the sure-to-become-a-favorite-of-yours Tuscan vegetable soup:

So, I'm sure you're wondering what's so great about a vegetable soup.  If you can believe it, this is the second time I've made this soup in the last week.  I first made it over the weekend for a family dinner at home.  Not only did everyone love it, but my meat-and-potatoes dad went back for seconds... seconds! 

It was a last minute recipe, and I was chopping vegetables and throwing ingredients into the stock pot like a woman on a mission.  And, even without any prep, it took only 20 minutes.  One reason why I love this soup so much is that it's a ready-right-now soup, rather than one that needs to simmer on the stove-top for an hour.  Not only easy, but also gorgeous is this soup.

Fresh vegetables that scream, "hello spring!"  Smooth and creamy (and inexpensive) cannellini beans.

Toss in some stock, tomatoes, spices, and spinach, and you've got yourself a vegetable soup to make all others hang their (metaphorical) heads in shame.

Another perk about this soup?  It's infinitely adaptable.  For instance, I diced and tossed in two chicken breasts, which cooked up in only 5 minutes.  Over the weekend, we used a small turkey breast.  You could substitute kale for spinach, or perhaps cauliflower for zucchini. 

You might be tempted to think that dining on a big bowl of vegetable soup after an ice cream cone sounds like some form of culinary torture.  Normally, I'd agree with you, but not this time.  Not only is this soup so satisfying (really, I wasn't even tempted to snack during the nail-biter of a game), but it was so absolutely bursting with flavor!  Plus, I love the trick of mashing half of the beans to give the broth more body, along with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

You could say yesterday had it all -- sunshine and heat, thunderstorms, ice cream, playoff hockey, and a super nutritious dinner to fuel my body and help me move on with my life today.  Not at bad day at all :)

Tuscan Vegetable Soup
(adapted slightly from Ellie Krieger)
-makes 6 1-1/2-cup-servings

A few notes: The first time I made this I threw in one large thawed turkey breast, diced, just before the beans and spinach and cooked until the turkey was opaque and cooked through entirely.  Omit it you want to keep this strictly vegetarian.  Or, if you're looking to keep this kosher, obviously omit the cheese.

1 (15-ounce) can canellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 carrots, diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 stalks celery, diced, (about 1/2 cup)
1 small zucchini, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
32 ounces low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups chopped baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional

In a small bowl mash half of the beans with a masher or the back of a spoon, and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, zucchini, garlic, thyme, sage, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and cook stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the broth and tomatoes with the juice and bring to a boil.   (If adding any meat or poultry, do so now and cook thoroughly until opaque, 5 to 7 minutes.)  Add the mashed and whole beans and the spinach leaves and cook until the spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes more.  Serve topped with Parmesan, if desired.

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