Wednesday, December 30, 2009

OMG! Best Minestrone Soup EVER!

For Christmas my BFF, Judy, sent me (among other things) a copy of this magazine that I'd never even heard of, but is it ever a-may-ZING!  Just check out that cover photo - does that soup look GOOD!  I read it from cover to cover and dog-eared the pages for the recipes I wanted to try.  The first one was that soup on the cover - Minestrone Soup with Quinoa.

I rushed out immediately and bought the ingredients.  Now, I've made minestrone soup before, and it was good, but this recipe is different.  Not just the quinoa, which is a new food that is in my vegan diet (and I love it), but there were other differences as well.  FRESH herbs instead of jarred, fresh tomatoes, not canned, and fresh spinach, not frozen, and cut chiffonade.  (Luckily, the magazine included an explanation on how to do that: stack the leaves, roll tightly, slice across w/a sharp knife, then fluff to separate.  And fennel, both bulb and seed.

Fennel.  Huh??  I vaguely knew what that was, but had never purchased it. I had to read the tags on the various bins at the market to make sure I bought the right thing!  My first fennel!  Then I had to look up on the internet how to prepare it.  We did have fennel seeds already in our spice cabinet - I don't think I've ever used them, though.  The fresh fennel has a very pleasant and mild anise taste, as well as a delicate crunch.  (We've since used it tossed with other greens in salad and it's delicious.)

As you can see, there's a lot of slicing, dicing, and chopping to be done for this recipe.  Not just the vegetables, but the herbs, too.  I have a pot of basil, and there's thyme growing in my garden, so I did some harvesting.  Nothing like the feeling of eating something you've grown yourself!  I'm also really getting into the zen of the washing, peeling, and chopping of fresh produce.  It's become a relaxing and enjoyable activity, instead of a chore.  I guess that's a good thing since, these days with the vegan diet, I'm processing a LOT of fresh produce!

I also needed to crush the fennel seed.  Back to the internet!  I read that I could either use a bowl and pestle, which I don't happen to have, or a coffee grinder.  I have a coffee grinder so I got that out and whirled those seeds around until they were a nice fine powder.

Carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and the ground fennel seeds sauteeing in olive oil.  You just won't believe the delicious aroma that rose from this pot!  After about 8 minutes I added 6 cups of water, cannellini beans, the tomatoes, and quinoa.  I brought that to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer gently until the quinoa was tender, about 20 minutes.

Doesn't it look gorgeous??

At that point I removed the bay leaves and seasoned it with sea salt and fresh-ground pepper.  Just before serving I added the spinach and basil.  This last step, I found, made a huge difference in retaining the color of the spinach (eye appeal!), as well as allowing the flavor and scent of the basil to be released right at the time of serving.  Is your mouth watering yet???  Grab a spoon because here's the finished product:

I didn't, but you can choose to garnish your soup with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, as the recipe suggests.  Isn't that a gorgeous bowl of soup?  The bright colors of the spinach and carrots, the plump beans, the rich-colored broth.  I gotta tell you - it tasted as good as it looks.  I don't think I've ever made a better-tasting soup.

Here's the recipe:
Minestrone Soup with Quinoa
{from Clean Eating magazine January/February 2010}

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 cup fennel, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup red onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1-1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained
2 cups fresh plum tomatoes
1/3 cup uncooked quinoa
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh spinach, cut chiffonade*
3 tbsp basil, thinly sliced
2 ox. Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated (about 1/2 cup), optional


In a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.  Add carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.  Add 6 cups water, beans, tomatoes and quinoa.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer gently until quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes.  Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.  Stir spinach and basil into soup just before serving in warm bowls.  Garnish each with 1 tbsp cheese, if desired.

Nutrients per 8-oz. serving (including cheese): Calories: 137, Total Fat: 5 g, Sat. Fat: 1 g, Carbs: 19 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugars: 3 g, Protein: 5 g, Sodium: 70 mg, Cholesterol: 0 mg.

Give it a try; I think you'll love it!

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