December 11, 2009

A Big Bowl of Warm

Yesterday, I had a bad case of the coldies. The skies were gray and I left my house well guarded with 4 layers of shirt/sweater/coat/and scarf, a large coffee, and one orange umbrella. But none of this winter armor could protect me from the fierce chill we are experiencing here in the Bay. Clearly, exterior fixes were not the answer. I needed something that would heat me up from the inside. Aka, the belly.

When I finished braving the stormy weather, I decided to brave a new dinner recipe – minestrone. Believe it or not, I’ve never eaten minestrone before. I know, totally weird. So I can’t say that I knew exactly what flavors I was going for. But I had an inkling that I wanted my low sodium soup to have a light but meaty broth, with lots of good veggies for slurping, and a subtle spice.

Minestrone is the casserole of soups – whatever you have will work. Of course there are the basics you want to use to create the soup base – garlic, onions, carrots and/or celery, and tomatoes. But as for the other “meat” of the dish, any leafy greens and fall or winter vegetable will work nicely.  So I started my adventure by hitting the fridge to see what goods I already possessed.

Lucky for me, I had garlic, shallots, Italian parsley, carrots from my Capay Farm CSA, some wilting kale, and a head of Savoy cabbage. Perfection. To round out the cornucopia of pre-owned produce, I also picked up no salt Cannellini beans, no salt added Fire Roasted Tomatoes, a handful of oyster mushrooms, and one zucchini. Usually I would have used fresh tomatoes for the stock, but since I wanted to create rich flavor quickly, the boost of the pre-roasted tomatoes was a big plus and a big time saver.

You can spend anywhere between 30 minutes and 3 hours building the flavors of this soup. A longer simmer time guarantees a more intense blend of the spices and natural juices. But if you have limited time, use fresh herbs, champagne vinegar, a splash of red wine, a few drops of flavored oil, and my secrete spice – freshly ground nutmeg – to create a more complex broth.

So enjoy this heart warming meal by your hearth (or heater) and stay out of the cold.


  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped or in rounds (I did rounds for more varied texture)
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 can no salt added fire roasted tomatoes (or a cup of diced tomatoes)
  • 2 cups even water works well–all those natural flavors from the veggies will create a great broth!
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 2 cups chopped Savoy cabbage
  • 1/2 cup of oyster mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 zucchini diced
  • 1 can no salt added Cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup of pasta (Farfalle, Fusilli Conchiglie – anything with scoop shapes that will hold onto the soup)
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • Black pepper, freshly ground nutmeg, 3 teaspoons champagne vinegar, splash of red wine, flavored olive oils (truffle, blood orange), red chili pepper flakes to taste


1. Heat oil in a pot over medium heat and cook garlic and shallots until clear.

2. Add in carrots and zucchini, allowing them to brown (not burn) in the oil.

3. To prepare the kale, you cut off the stems and spine, and chop the leaves. While some recipes call for discarding the stems and spine, I like to dice those parts and add them into the soup as well.

4. Add all the kale to the pot and throw in your pepper, red chili flakes, and champagne vinegar as well. Let the greens soften for 15 minutes, stirring constantly.

5. Move vegetables to one side of pot and add the diced tomatoes, allowing them to simmer and caramelize for 5 minutes.

6. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add a splash of red wine if you have it (no more than 2 tablespoons). Leave uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes or longer if you have the time.

7. Ten minutes before serving, add cabbage, mushrooms, beans, and parsley to the soup.

8. Turn off heat and add your pasta. Cover pot and let the pasta cook for another 5 minutes. This way it will be al dente when you are ready to eat.

9. To serve, top with more fresh parsley, some farmers cheese if you have it, a little extra pepper and flavored oils.

I’m off to dig into some leftovers now. Chow on.

Jully January 13, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Hello- I would like to make this but I am confused about the amount of chicken broth to use. Is it 2 cups or 2 quarts. Thanks in advance!

jessg23 January 24, 2012 at 10:48 am

Hi Jully! I’ve updated the post (sorry, it was quite old!). 2 cups will do and add more water as needed. Any kind of salt-free broth will do. But as you will see, even 2 cups of water will do the trick. All those veggies have powerful flavors of their very own and with time, they’ll make a scrumptious broth, no-added sodium needed! I hope this warms your tummy!

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