Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hearty Minestrone

I'm one of those nerds who reads almost anything for fun--cookbooks included. An oldie but goodie is one I borrowed (permanently--oops!) from my mom. I can never recall its title or who published it without looking, so it is perpetually known as the "Purple Cookbook". As in, my mom will call me to ask "Do you still have my Purple Cookbook that you took 11 years ago?" (once again--oops!)

The Purple Cookbook is a compilation, similar to one you might find being sold as a church or community fundraiser. While the recipes aren't gourmet, what sets Purple apart is the variety. You won't find 50 versions of ye olde Jell-o salad/cream-of-something casserole/Velveeta cheese dips; instead there are recipes like the inspiration for tonight's dinner: Hearty Minestrone.

As a newlywed, I made this soup exactly as written in the Purple Cookbook. As I became a more experienced cook, I tweaked the recipe to our tastes and penciled my adjustments in the book. It has evolved into what is entirely my own creation, the version below. This minestrone is fabulous served with cornbread or grilled cheese sandwiches, and it tastes great (maybe better?) after a couple of days in the fridge so make ahead or save some for later.

Hearty Minestrone
from Pure & Simple Beta Sigma Phi
(otherwise lovingly known as "Purple Cookbook)
1 T Olive oil
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
32 oz. chicken broth
1 - 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (with or without basil--Muir Glen is by far my favorite brand)
1 - 19 oz. can cannellini beans, including liquid
1 t. dried basil (can use fresh--just use more and add toward end of cooking time)
1 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. each dried thyme & Italian seasoning
8 oz. small shell pasta
1 1/2 c. frozen mixed vegetables
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese (optional)

1.  Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until golden brown. Add the garlic; cook for about 1 minute (careful not to let garlic burn).
2.  Add the broth, tomatoes, seasonings, and beans. Bring to a fast simmer.
3.  Meanwhile, cook pasta to slightly firmer than al dente. Turn off the heat and add the frozen vegetables. Stir and let sit for a couple of minutes to help thaw the veggies.
4.  Drain water from pasta/veggies, then add them to simmering soup. Cook at medium-low heat to heat through. Check that pasta is tender and the vegetables are hot.
***Note: You can cut out steps 3 and 4 and just throw the uncooked pasta and frozen vegetables right in with the other ingredients. I don't like the starchy flavor and texture of the soup like that, so I go through the additional cooking/draining steps unless I'm extremely pressed for time.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan, if desired.

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