A quiet sort of chaos reigns in my household these days. We’ve been fostering a super sweet hound mix named Margaret for four (!) months, and she’s got all sorts of fun little health issues that keep cropping up. The latest? Polyps in both ears, requiring an expensive, complex surgery. As the rescue tries to find a surgeon who’ll offer a discount, they’re fundraising to mitigate the (substantial!) cost of the surgery. (Margaret isn’t in pain, by the way, but the polyps are causing chronic ear infections and could become malignant. She is truly the gentlest, sweetest little girl, though, and I hope an adopter steps up soon.)
For the last two weeks, we’ve also been dealing with a (human) health crisis on Steven’s side of the family. The details aren’t mine to share, but we (mostly Steven!) have been making lots of long trips to the hospital and dealing with the uncertainty of a potentially serious affliction. It’s been draining and scary and exhausting.
And on top of all that, our beloved Prius started making some seriously odd noises — like a prop plane taking off. Our mechanic thinks it’s caused by low tire treads and hasn’t been able to find anything more serious, but as someone who deals with car-related anxiety, the noises leave me discomfited.
Basically, we’ve got a lot of ongoing, unresolved issues. For two chronic worriers prone to anxiety, it’s… stressful.
In times like these, healthy eating tends to fall by the wayside, even for the best of us. We haven’t meal-planned in weeks, grocery trips have taken a backseat to hospital trips, and we’ve been relying on a combination of leftovers, whatever we can scrounge (hey-o, random pot of black-eyed peas, kale, and pizza sauce!), and the occasional dinner shared by our super thoughtful friends who happen to be vegan and live just down the street. Things are finally getting back to normal, but we’re not quite back in our regular meal-planning mode yet.
I have managed to make one solid meal in the past couple weeks, though: minestrone. A steaming hot, big ol’ pot of veggie-laden soup, perfect for delivering a dose of the nutrients we’re sorely lacking. I put it together with all sorts of scraps found in the fridge — half a jar of canned tomato sauce from god knows when, baby carrots, a jar of roasted red peppers, some sad little garlic cloves beginning to shrivel and sprout. I didn’t have celery, so I forewent the traditional mirepoix base. I added some little collard leaves picked from the garden; thank goodness for cold-hardy vegetables! Green beans and broccoli — the only fresh veggies in the fridge — went into the pot, along with a small can of diced tomatoes and a big can of cannellini beans. A liberal dusting of herbs, plenty of nooch, and some veggie bouillon rounded out the flavors, and elbow macaroni provided the pasta component. A nice long simmer while Steven drove home from his hospital visit helped meld all the flavors, and we sat down to big bowls of surprisingly delicious soup two Sundays back. A brief moment to catch our breaths, and much appreciated.
So, today, in the style of my template for making lentil soup, a template for making minestrone with whatever you’ve got on hand. Start with these five tips for homemade minestrone, and then read on for more detailed instructions
Cook your pasta separately.
My texture issues might be speaking here, but who wants to eat leftover soup laden with soggy, bloated pasta? Avoid that nastiness by cooking your pasta separately (in bulk) and adding individual portions to each serving of minestrone.
Embrace liberalism (with your seasonings).
Do not skimp on the herbs! Big scoops of dried basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme make all the difference. I’d opt for at least one teaspoon of each herb per 3-4 cups of liquid, but don’t sweat the measurements.
Say yes to yeast.
A big scoop of nutritional yeast adds a funky kick you’d get from parmesan in a non-vegan minestrone. Don’t skip it!
Get creative with your veggies.
Do not feel beholden to traditional minestrone recipes that “suggest” a very particular blend of vegetables! Instead, feel free to add whatever’s in your fridge or freezer. Aim for a blend of veggies with different sizes and shapes to keep things interesting.
Take your time.
Tempting thought you might find it to dig in to your minestrone as soon as you’ve dumped all the ingredients in the pot, give it some time to rest! Simmer your soup for at least an hour to build and deepen your flavors. (If you’re using any veggies that are prone to sogginess, feel free to add them closer to serving time.)
- 2 T olive oil (you can use more if you prefer, or even just water-sauté the veggies if you want to avoid added oil)
- Diced onion, carrot, and celery (the amounts don’t really matter, but aim for about 1/2 cup of each)
- 3-5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- A small shake red pepper flakes (optional)
- 3-4 cups vegetable broth (I like Better than Bouillon)
- 14 ounces diced canned tomatoes (if using whole, smash them up a bit)
- 14 ounces crushed tomatoes (optional but recommended; use 8 ounces tomato sauce and a little extra broth in a pinch)
- 14 ounces cannellini beans (or other white beans)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6 ounces small pasta, like ditalini or elbows
The veggies (choose 2-3)
- 1/2 to 1 cup green beans, ends trimmed and sliced into 3/4″ inch pieces
- 1/2 to 1 cup small broccoli florets
- 1/3 cup roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
- Additional 1/2 cup sliced carrots
- 2 cups greens, roughly chopped (kale, collards, spinach)
Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot on medium. When it begins to shimmer, add the mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery) and garlic. Heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently so nothing burns, until the onion is translucent.
Add your spices and give everything a good stir, then add all remaining ingredients except pasta. Bring everything to a boil, give it a good stir, and then turn it down to low. Let simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the soup is simmering, cook your pasta according to the package’s instructions, then set aside.
After about 45 minutes, check to ensure that all veggies are nice and tender. Season with salt, pepper, and more nutritional yeast to taste. Serve piping hot, with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of cooked pasta per bowl. Top with additional nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan as desired.