Monday, September 12, 2011

Salad Bar Minestrone

Welcome to Fall, Chickens!  Didn't that just sneak right up on all of us?  I could have sworn I was just getting the hang of summer.

But football is on the agenda, kids are back in school, and crisp has returned to the vocabularies of weatherpeople everywhere.  Which means that it is time to think about cooking again.

I never really think about what I do in the summer as cooking.  It feels more like assembling.  And grilling, of course.  And don't get me wrong, I love summer foods...all the thrown together salads with the abundance of available and interesting produce.  Endless ears of local sweet corn.  Charming Suitor and I have been having a passionate love affair with steamed artichokes dunked in peppery dijon vinaigrette this summer, sometimes tucking into the succulent leaves and meaty hearts as our whole dinner.  Delicious and virtuous, such a rare combination.  CS is a serious grill master, and this summer has been filled with perfectly juicy chops and steaks and burgers.

But Fall....Fall is for COOKING.  Long braises, hearty stews, crispy skinned roasts.  The kind of cooking that fills the house with amazing smells that make the neighbors jealous. 

I love soup.  All kinds of soups.  One of the things I love about them, as someone who is always trying to be healthier and manage some weight loss, is that they are filling and can be very good for you if you stay away from chowders and cream soups.  If there is a vegetable soup on the menu, I'll always pick that over a salad to start, because it fills me up better and helps me deal with my entree in moderation.

Since I work from home, lunch is often a bowl of soup and maybe a chunk of cheese and piece of fruit.  One of my favorite soups to make is what I call my salad bar minestrone.  It plays into my very lazy nature by providing all my ingredients pre-prepped and cleaned and ready for the pot.  It also means I don't end up with a fridge full of half-used veggies that I have to figure out a use for.  It comes together in about a half an hour, and will feed CS and I lunches for a week, but freezes beautifully if you live alone or don't like to eat the same thing several times in a row. 

This is a technique more than a recipe, so alter for your personal taste!  And if you find a combo you love, share with the class.

Salad Bar Minestrone

8 c assorted veggies from your salad bar, in fairly equal proportions:  I use the following, but you should use what you like. (I don’t like mushrooms in this soup, they make the broth sort of muddy)

                Shredded red cabbage
                Red onion
                Zucchini and/or Yellow Squash
                Broccoli and/or Cauliflower

1 jar of your favorite marinara or tomato basil sauce, I love Rao’s
1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
½ - 3/4 c small whole wheat pasta, like ditalini or orzo
¼ c flat leaf parsley, chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Water or stock

Dump all of the veggies excluding the potato into a large stock pot.  Add the jar of marinara and enough water (or good chicken or vegetable stock if you have it on hand) to cover the veggies by about 2 inches.  Stir well, and bring to a simmer over medium high heat.  When the soup is bubbling, add the red pepper flakes if you like, and salt and pepper to taste.  When the broth tastes great, add the pasta and potato and cook for another 12-15 minutes.  When the potato and pasta are cooked through, taste again for seasoning, stir in the parsley, and let cool before storing in fridge or freezer.

If you have any leftover cooked veggies in your fridge, you can add them when you add the pasta and potato.

Use what you have!  No jarred pasta sauce?  Grab a large can of crushed tomatoes.  Have some fresh herbs on hand, or some slightly sad wilty veggies in the crisper?  Use ‘em up.  Prefer a grain to pasta?  Try barley or farro or brown rice.  Want it soupier? Add more water or stock.  Heartier and more stewlike, add less.  Have some pesto around?  Stir it in.  The most important ingredient is fluidity, let your taste buds and mood guide you.

 Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath


  1. I heart soup and have recently found that isreali couscous is a mighty tasty grain to toss in with soup. YUM!

  2. I love soup as well, and several years ago, I came across a "5 can soup" recipe:

    1 can corn (drained)
    1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
    1 can diced Italian tomatoes
    1 can mixed vegetables (I like to use frozen
    1 can minestrone soup

    Mix all ingredients in a pan, bring to a boil.

    For a more stew like soup, add 1/2 cup of quick cooking barley, a can of chicken broth and 1 cup of diced, cooked chicken.

    Fast and easy.

    Bev V.