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30-Minute Meals 2: Green Minestrone

An outstanding soup recipe, perhaps the best dish from Rachael Ray that I've tested yet. As she says in her note to the recipe, Minestrone is a BIG soup. Served with crusty bread, this one makes an excellent meal.

It's called "green" minestrone because unlike the usual tomato base for this classic Italian soup, this one is tomato-free. It's chock-full of green veggies, and they all meld together to make a really tasty, thick, hearty soup. I'm surprised Ray could resist the temptation to call it a "stoup."

Ray suggests that the minestrone could be made vegetarian by omitting the pancetta or prosciutto and using vegetable broth. I didn't try it this way, but I imagine that it might be somewhat less flavorful than the deliciously porky original recipe. If you're going to try it vegetarian-style, simmer a big piece of rind from a Parmigiano cheese wedge along with it, to add flavor.

The recipe as written calls for ditalini pasta, or mini penne. I substituted orzo, and it worked fine. Whatever small pasta you have available will work.

In one of her more unrealistic estimates, Ray says this recipe makes 4 servings. Not exactly. Even if everyone is starving, I think you'd be able to feed eight or more people with this recipe. When reheating leftovers, add a good-sized splash of chicken broth to each serving. The pasta will soak up the soup's liquid as it sits in the refrigerator, and the reheated soup will be really thick unless diluted a bit.

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 8 or more servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 slices pancetta or 1/4 pound thick-cut prosciutto, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 medium zucchini, diced
Salt and pepper
15-oz. can cannellini beans
15-oz. can garbanzo beans
8 cups chicken broth (2 1-quart containers)
1 cup ditalini, mini-penne, orzo, or other small pasta
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
10 oz. bag spinach, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, shredded
12 to 16 leaves fresh basil, torn or shredded, OR 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add oil and pancetta or prosciutto. Sauté 2 minutes, then add onions, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and zucchini to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Sauté another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add white beans, garbanzo beans, and chicken broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Add pasta and green beans and cook 8 minutes, or until pasta is just tender. Stir in spinach to wilt, 1 minute. Stir in grated cheese. Ladle soup into bowls and top with basil or parsley. Serve with crusty bread.



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