March 17, 2013

Hearty Minestrone Soup

I love making soups and stews, but would you believe I've never made a Minestrone?  Crazy, I know, for this gal who loves Italian!  It's considered one of the cornerstones of Italian cuisine and just about as common as pasta on the Italian table.  So this recipe was my first attempt at Minestrone and I was very pleased with the results.  It's delicious-very savory and flavorful.  

1-1/4 cups dried white beans (8 ounces), soaked
overnight and drained
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, finely diced
2 medium shallots, minced
2 large celery ribs, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
(I used a sweet onion)
1 large carrot, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
one 14-ounce can plum tomatoes, chopped
juices reserved
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
handful (about 1/2 cup) mini seashell pasta
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a pot, cover the pre-soaked beans with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil.  Simmer over low heat until tender, about 2 hours; add water to keep the beans covered.  Drain beans and reserve the cooking liquid and set both aside.  Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Add the pancetta and cook, stirring constantly, over moderate heat until crisp, about 4 minutes.  Add the shallots, celery, onion, and carrot, and cook until softened.  Add the garlic, crushed pepper (if using), and bay leaves and cook, stirring, until fragrant.  Add the tomato paste and continue cooking another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in the tomatoes and broth and bring to a boil.  Simmer, uncovered, over low heat for 1 hour.  Add the beans and enough cooking liquid to thin out the soup.  Bring to a low boil and add pasta; cook until al dente.  Discard the bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.  Note:  I actually used one 14-ounce can of cannellini beans in place of the dried and it tasted fine.  I will also omit the red pepper next time-my hubby and kids prefer it a little less spicy.  Serves 4

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