Italian Vegetable Soup

Yes, I know it’s almost summer, but it’s been ridiculously cold in Central Oregon this week. Definitely soup weather. Besides, this soup employs tons of vegetables, has a bright, spicy flavor and makes use of my fresh basil so it’s a very good fit for late spring. Surprisingly hearty and delicious, it’s also a nutritional powerhouse. Besides the obvious benefits of the vegetables, the cannellini beans are high in magnesium, iron, fiber and protein and the tomato paste is an excellent source of the powerful antioxidant, lycopene. Best of all, it’s so low in calories and high in fiber you don’t have to feel at all guilty about the crusty, butter slathered bread you choose to enjoy it with. As long as you don’t have three or four servings, of course. I used to dip countless dinner rolls stuffed with about a tablespoon of butter in this soup when we made it at the restaurant, but I was in my twenties then and working on my feet 50+ hours a week so I could swing it… those were the days! (they really weren’t though, I was 20 lbs lighter but my body image was way worse than it is now, go figure)

Freezes beautifully, so go ahead and make a big ol’ batch.

Italian Vegetable Soup
1 TB olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cups celery, chopped
3 cups bell peppers (yellow/red/orange), chopped
2 cups carrots, chopped
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground Greek oregano
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt and fresh ground pepper
1 bay leaf
6 cups cremini or white button mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, grated or minced
32 oz vegetable broth
14 oz canned diced tomatoes
28 oz canned cannellini beans (aka white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
6 oz tomato paste

fresh basil chiffonade (sliced in long, thin strips) for garnish

Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish

Begin by sharpening your knife, if possible, as you have a lot of chopping to do. You might notice the knife I’m using in the photo is much smaller than my favorite chef’s knife. Funny story (and by funny, I mean irritating), I almost had a panic attack last week because I could not find my knife anywhere in my kitchen, and I mean anywhere! I even looked in the dishwasher in case someone accidentally put it in there (the horror!). It’s a bit unsettling to have lost a very large knife in a home with two 5-year-olds in residence.  The only thing that kept me from a full panic was that I knew my brother, Billy, the chef, was in town for the annual cousin’s golf tournament and was going to cook dinner for all of them that night. Come to find out, he, indeed, snuck into my house while I was out and stole my knife. Okay, he told Bob he was going to but he was in the golf tournament as well and has the memory of a goldfish so it’s not like he was going to tell me. Luckily, I was able to collect myself enough to realize that I could, in fact, use a different knife to chop my vegetables but, I have to admit, it took awhile. Bully big brother. He did give it back…. whatever.

Chop your onions in @ 1/4 inch pieces. Over medium heat, pour 2 TB olive oil in a large stock pot (3 quart is the size I used) then add chopped onion

Chop celery, leaves and all. That’s where the flavor is!When I prep celery, I usually trim the ends of the stalk, then divide the ribs into two bags, one for clean, uniform ribs for snacking and one for the outer and inner ribs and leaves that are best for adding to soups and such. Add to pot with the onions, still over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Chop peppers and carrots and add to the pot along with all the spices.

Cook until veggies begin to soften, slightly, and add mushrooms and garlic.
(if you want to add some broccoli, cauliflower or zucchini, now would be the time. I would have used any of those veggies if I had had them in my fridge)

Cook and stir for just a few minutes then add vegetable stock,

beans and tomato paste. The beans are optional, we never added them at the restaurant, I just wanted a heartier soup and I love the creamy texture they add.

Stir until combined, increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Garnish with basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano (I use a vegetable peeler to get the nice strips of cheese) and serve with yummy bread if you like!

“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.”
Dr. Seuss

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