What's For Lunch: Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

Friends of ours came up to visit last Saturday, and I wanted to make a meal that was easy to throw together, so that I wouldn't have to slave over the stove while they were here. I decided on a simple menu of soup and salad and opted to make a slow cooker soup -- the only downside being that, since it took five hours to cook, and I wanted to serve the soup for lunch, I had to get up around 7a to get it started.

This soup is full of vegetable goodness -- and made even more colorful as I picked up some red, yellow, and purple carrots from our local natural foods store to use in the recipe. Great northern beans, onions, tomatoes, and zucchini, along with Italian spices, round out the flavor profile.

This soup recipe makes a ton of servings -- I don't know what it is about soup recipes, but any time one says that it makes "6-8 portions," I immediately amp up the value to at least 8-10. Because this soup includes pasta, I would recommend making the pasta separately rather than cooking it in the soup if you do not plan to eat the soup all in one sitting. Doing so lets you freeze the extras without ending up with mushy pasta bits once you defrost the soup. I find that even refrigerating the leftover soup with pasta in it tends to end up with mushy pasta, too. So, to combat the mushiness, cook the pasta on the stovetop then portion the pasta into individual serving bowls before ladling the soup into the bowls. After a quick stir, no one will know the difference. Then just add in some fresh-chopped basil and freshly-grated Parmesan, and lunch is ready to be served!

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup (printer-friendly version)
makes 8 - 10 servings

1 cup dried great northern beans, rinsed and picked over
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 white onions, chopped fine
4 small to medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can organic whole peeled tomatoes, roughly crushed by hand
8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups filtered water
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (plus additional for garnish)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, seeded, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup elbow or small shell pasta (regular or gluten-free)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for garnish)

1. Add the beans to a large pot and cover with 1" of water. Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain the beans and place in the bottom of the slow cooker.
2. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and carrots, and cook until softened, 8-10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and cook until nearly all the liquid has cooked off, about 10-12 minutes. Then stir in the broth, water, basil, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then carefully transfer the soup to the slow cooker.
3. Cover and cook on high for 4-6 hours, or until the beans are tender.
4. Add the chopped zucchini to the soup and cook until tender, about 10-20 minutes. If you do not plan to eat the soup all in one sitting, cook the pasta separately. If you are cooking for a crowd, add the dried pasta to the slow cooker and cook until tender, 20-30 minutes. (I used a gluten-free quinoa-based pasta, which I cooked separately on the stove top.) If you cooked the pasta separately, add the cooked pasta to individual soup bowls, then spoon the soup over the pasta, and stir to combine.
5. Garnish with additional fresh-chopped basil and freshly grated Parmesan before serving.

(adapted from this Cook's Country recipe)


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