Even though it is June, here in the Pacific Northwest it is still cool and damp. That calls for something to warm you up after a long rainy day. I really love Minestrone Soup, just for that reason. It is good and hearty, with a nice mellow flavor. The perfect accompaniment is Irish Brown Bread. Both recipes are very easy and healthy. The Minestrone can be cooked in a crock pot, or just as easily on the stove top. Purchase an extra can of beef broth to add if you are reheating the soup the next day, as the liquid tends to get absorbed. The Bread should be prepared right before serving so you can enjoy it warm out of the oven. It can also be frozen, or reheated in foil. I also love it sliced and toasted in the morning with my coffee. It does not keep longer than two days, so freeze what you are not going to use.
Minestrone Soup with Pasta, Beans, and Vegetables
3 cups reduced sodium beef stock
6-8 slices thick bacon, cooked crisp, drained and crumbled
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (15 0z) can white (cannellini or navy) beans, drained
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1-2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried sage
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
1 cup small pasta (broken spaghetti, ditalini, or sm shells)
1 medium zucchini, chopped, or 1 cup cut green beans
2 cups coarsely chopped fresh or frozen spinach, defrosted (optional)
Grated Parmesan and Basil sprigs for garnish, if desired
In a slow cooker, combine broth, bacon, tomatoes, beans, carrots, celery, onion, thyme, sage, bay leaves, and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Cover and cook on Low for 6-8 hours, or on High for 3-4 hours.
Alternately, in a heavy soup kettle, bring to a low boil, turn down heat and simmer on Low for 1 and 1/2 hours.
Thirty minutes before the soup is done cooking, add the pasta, zucchini or green beans, and spinach. Cover and cook until pasta is tender, about 30 minutes.
Remove bay leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and garnish with basil, if desired.
Irish Brown Bread
Serves 4 - makes 2 loaves
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup quick oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups buttermilk (1 pint)
2 Tbsp honey
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix flours, oats, wheat germ, baking soda, and salt.
Whisk together buttermilk and honey.
Add to flour mixture, stir to combine until soft dough forms.
Turn dough out onto floured surface, and turn a couple of times to coat with flour. Divide in half. Shape each half into a round loaf. (Keep these evenly flat so they will also cook evenly. If too tall, the middle will be doughy.) Place loaves 3 in. apart onto a prepared baking sheet; bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce temperature to 400 degrees and finish baking, 10 more minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool 15 minutes.