You know what will suck the will to cook right out of you? Moving, that’s what. John and I have been on a tour of convenience foods for the past several weeks. First, there was the “clean out the pantry by eating everything in it” week- lots of macaroni, boxed couscous, and canned bean-based dishes. Then there was the “I am not buying any more groceries while we are still living in this house because so help me god I am not moving a carton of eggs from one house to another” week. That week featured frozen boca burgers, grilled cheese on almost-stale bread, and an unfortunate experiment involving homemade pickles and some leftover pearl barley. Finally, there was the “no, seriously, we REALLY have to pack this house” week, which featured takeout sushi, takeout salads, takeout pizza- you get the idea.
But now we have moved, thank the heavens, and all I want to do is make our new place feel like it’s truly ours. First step: making it smell like ours. This involves lots of cooking so our smells replace the smells of the previous owners (which, to be clear, were not bad, exactly, just…different. It doesn’t smell like our house yet. I want to change that.)
After all that crap we’ve eaten for the past three weeks, I didn’t want to start us off with something heavy, so I opted for a fall version of minestrone soup. The weather is just starting to cool off, so soup sounded good, but this is a good transitional soup – still light enough that it didn’t feel like a heavy winter meal, but uses some of the fall vegetables, like squash and kale, that are just coming into season. I served it with a green salad and some sourdough rolls and it was DELICIOUS. Yay for soup!
Fall Minestrone (adapted from Cooking Light)
1 T olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
½ small can tomato paste (optional)
8 cups broth (I used vegetable, you could easily use chicken)
2 ½ cups peeled butternut squash, cut into ¾ inch cubes (see note)
2 ½ cups peeled russet or other baking potato, cut into ¾ inch cubes
1 cup green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
½ cup diced carrots
¾ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
4 cups chopped kale or swiss chard
½ cup uncooked orzo or ditalini http://www.barillaus.com/Products/4/ditalini.aspx (tiny tube pasta)
1 16 oz-can cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained
Parmesan cheese, to serve
- Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes until tender. Stir in tomato paste and cook for an additional 30 seconds to get the raw flavor out.
- Add the broth, squash, potato, green beans, carrot, oregano, salt, and pepper to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. (I would test the potato and squash for tenderness at this point- if they still seem rock hard, as mine did, cook 5-10 minutes more until they’re starting to get soft).
- Add the kale, pasta, and beans; cook 5 minutes until the pasta is done and the vegetables are tender. Taste, and add additional salt if desired. Serve sprinkled with fresh-grated parmesan cheese.
Tips and notes
- I generally don’t advocate for buying your vegetables pre-chopped- they’re usually less fresh, and substantially more expensive- but let’s face it, peeling and chopping a raw butternut squash is a tremendous pain in the ass. Many grocery stores, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, sell squash that’s been pre-peeled and chopped. You may have to cut it down still further to get the bits small enough, but in this case I think it’s worth paying the extra money, particularly for a weeknight meal.
- Speaking of weeknight meal- Cooking Light called this a weeknight meal, but I feel obligated to report that from the time I started prepping this until when we ate was slightly over an hour. Sure, much of that was simmering time, but it was not exactly zippy.
- It took my pasta a little longer than 5 minutes to cook in the warm soup- make sure you taste test it before you serve crunchy noodles to your family. But the pasta will continue to suck up moisture as the soup sits- so much so that by morning the orzo in the leftovers were like giant mutant orzo from space- so don’t worry if they’re still a little al dente.
- The potatoes put off a lot of starch and the orzo sucks up a fair bit of water, so it’s possible your soup might end up a little stew-like. I ended up adding a full cup of water to the soup to make it more soup-like.
- You could skip the tomato paste, as it’s something I added to the original recipe, but I thought it gave it more of a traditional minestrone flavor.