Winter and I are not friends, to say the least. If it could be 80-90 degrees and sunny all year, I would be content. I definitely want to hibernate throughout the winter, and one winter I did so and read the entire Harry Potter series. It was amazing.
It’s both a pro and a con to work with college students who don’t start their spring semester until late January. It’s nice to have downtime to rest (or read Harry Potter). But when I don’t have something to busy me in the winter, my mental state is not its best. I have to fight against seasonal depression getting the best of me. So now I know I need to sleep more. I need to exercise. I need to eat healthy. And I take a whole lot of vitamins. Also, it’s vital for me to busy myself and my brain.
Soup is like a hug to me in the winter. Can I survive off of soup and bread over the coming months? Yes, I think I can! With the snowflake showing up on my weather app for this weekend, I need to share Barefoot Contessa’s Winter Minestrone with you all. It’s filled with vegetables and pancetta (or bacon… that’s what I use to woo the kids to eat this), a bit of pasta and beans. It just looks healthy and makes me feel like I’m caring for both my heart and my soul.
The first time I made this minestrone soup years ago, I thought there was no way my kids would eat it. But I wanted to give it a try because everything in Barefoot Contessa’s Foolproof Cookbook that I’ve made has been spot-on. And guess what? My daughter (she was probably 7?) would often ask, “When are you going to make that minestrone again?” Of course you can’t win them all… our third-born seems to think all vegetables besides any variety of potatoes, green beans, and roasted broccoli are going to poison him. We’ll keep working on that… More parmesan cheese perhaps? Don’t skip that… it definitely takes the soup from great to super-delicious!
This recipe makes a lot. At least two meals for our family of six. It’s an easy soup to eat half of and freeze half for a night when you don’t want to cook. Ina Garten serves hers with an easy garlic bruschetta. I’ve linked to that at the bottom of the recipe. We wanted warm crusty rolls with ours. I’ll share that recipe tomorrow.
Last thing to note: I hate celery. Like a lot. All manners are out the door if I take a bite of chicken salad and taste celery. I will spit it out of my mouth. I have trained myself to tolerate celery in fresh-pressed juice because I know it’s really healthy. But I always leave it out of recipes. So my minestrone has no celery. And it’s amazing that way.
Barefoot Contessa’s Winter Minestrone
- 2 tbsp Good olive oil
- 4 ounces pancetta or bacon 1/2-inch-diced
- 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
- 2 cups 1/2-inch-diced carrots (3 carrots)
- 2 cups 1/2-inch-diced celery (3 stalks) (optional)
- 2 1/2 cups 1/2-inch-diced peeled butternut squash
- 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic, 4 cloves
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
- One 26-ounce can or box diced tomatoes, such as Pomi
- 6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (mine was not)
- 1 bay leaf
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup small pasta, such as tubetti
- 8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
- 1/2 cup good dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons store-bought pesto
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta (or bacon) and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. The soup should be quite thick but if it’s too thick, add more chicken stock (I did not).
While the soup is simmering, cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add 1 cup of pasta and cook according to the package instructions. Drain, and set aside.
Add the spinach, and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad). Cook just until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the white wine and pesto. Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add another teaspoon or two of salt to taste (I did not add any). Pour into bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve hot.