Growing up, I was never much interested in cooking, merely eating. I didn’t give much thought to behind the scenes of the meals my mom would miraculously create for the seven of us, even after a full day of work. One of favorite meals was her vegetable soup. It was thrown together with tons of fresh veggies, chunks of tomato and topped with melting wisps of parmesan cheese. I remember my surprise at biting down on something hard and crackly and promptly shrieking with distaste. “It’s just a bay leaf.” Mom said. I told her that it didn’t seem as if this bay leaf in her soup was, in fact, edible. She rolled her eyes and said that it was in the soup for flavoring, calm down and finish your dinner or you don’t get dessert.
When I lived off campus during my senior year at college, my roommates decided to institute “Family Dinner”. This was short lived as our Senioritis gradually got more and more serious as the year went on. But in the beginning, we were all about it. I had little to no experience with cooking back then and felt woefully inept facing my first turn at making dinner for the seven of us. I called my mom and asked for her vegetable soup recipe. She laughed and said it wasn’t really much of a recipe and to throw a bunch of vegetables in a pot and cook for a while. Now panicked, I chided her for her nonsensical instructions and told her that she needed to tell me step by step how to recreate the soup of my childhood or else her daughter wouldn’t have anything to show for Family Dinner and how much shame that should bring her. Patiently, she went over all the ingredients, amounts and directions to recreate her simple vegetable soup. It was basically a minestrone soup, though she omitted the white beans and her pasta of choice was tortellini. The final product impressed my roommates and taught me that I, like my mother, could communicate my fondness for others through food. This was an important discovery, as I am by no means an affectionate individual and would constantly deny hugs to my beloved roommates. Instead, I fed them.
My Minestrone Soup
I made a big pot of this to ensure a few days of leftovers for the two of us. Adjust as necessary.
Dice 1 large leek, 1 large sweet onion, 1 fennel bulb and 1 shallot. Pour a glug or two of olive oil in your soup pot and toss the diced items in once it’s hot. Saute until translucent.
Chop up a couple carrots and 3-4 zucchinis into bite sized pieces. Once the onion mixture in the pot is translucent, stir in the carrots. Sprinkle a bit of dried oregano and thyme onto the carrots cook up for about 5 minutes. Add chopped zucchini, a couple pinches of salt and some black pepper. Dice a few garlic cloves and add to pot. Stir until zucchini softens a bit. Add a bit more olive oil if needed. Roughly chop and add whichever types of fresh herbs you choose. I used a bunch of basil, some parsley, chives and a couple of sage leaves. Nothing beats those fragrant, luscious, fresh herbs I tell you.
Once all these veggies are cooking up nicely, pour in vegetable broth. For this big pot I used 1.5 boxes and added a bit of water once it started getting a bit too thick. Pour in 1 large can of diced tomatoes ,about a cup of tomato paste and a can of rinsed, small white beans. Adjust ratios to your taste preferences of course.
I added in a couple of parmesan cheese rinds and a large bay leaf for taste. Bring the soup to a boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Taste and add more salt/pepper if needed. Add a few handfuls of frozen or fresh corn. Add a few large handfuls of small pasta. I used whole wheat macaroni. You may want to add a bit of water to the soup as the pasta will be absorbing liquids and you don’t want stew, you want soup.
Cover the soup and cook until the pasta is tender and al dente-esque, probably 6-8 minutes. Stir up the soup and dish into bowls. Grate fresh parmesan cheese on top, add a dollop of pesto and some more of those freshly chopped basil/chives . Eat, then repeat.