With the ending of the Holiday season, and finally (I say this with much fervent hope) being able to relax and find more time for one’s self again, I found myself craving a new soup. I regularly whip up a few favorites in our house, but being a little encouraged by that polar vortex thing that was clawing its way into the Southern U.S., I wanted something different. Different for us, that is. You may have made your own delicious minestrone soup already, but you might still want to check out the version we found and tried. It’s easily going on my top 5 list of favorite soups to make at home.
The thing that grabbed my attention was the smokey part. So what makes it smokey? Well, in all honesty, because…bacon. I know, I know, not the dreaded bacon!
Heh – just kidding – we’re totally on board with the bacon! So much so that the second time I made this soup, I added more bacon. I’ll explain why. Normally you don’t need an excuse or explanation for bacon, though. Tab that for future reference.
First and foremost, though, minestrone is traditionally a very veggie-packed soup and this one is no exception. We’ve got yummy carrots, onions, celery, leek, zucchini and little chunks of potato. There are also chickpeas, which I was surprised to see, as any minestrone I’ve had prior usually used beans. Loved the chickpeas, though, much more than beans even.
At this point, you’re looking at what takes the most work – prepping the veggies. All that dicing and slicing and chopping. Really, though, it’s not the worst amount I’ve ever prepped for a recipe. But still, whenever you get into something this veggie-loaded, most of the work will be in the chopping.
So things have progressed well at this point. The onion, leek, garlic and other veggies are all nicely sautéed, just enough to begin to soften them. You don’t want to saute them too much or else they’ll be way too mushy when the soup is done. It’s OK that they still have a little bite and crunch to them at this point.
The liquid’s been added, so here’s your Before the Great Simmer shot for reference.
At this point, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I’ve made this with the San Marzano style tomatoes called for, but also in the second soup with regular store brand whole peeled tomatoes. I think I honestly prefer the store brand tomatoes because the San Marzano were very strong in flavor. This is why I was skeptical about the claims to smokey flavor in the recipe title. In the first version with the San Marzano tomatoes, I couldn’t taste any smokey bacon flavor. This is why I upped the bacon to SIX slices (yup, SIX) in my second batch of soup, and the milder flavor of the store brand tomatoes allowed the smokey flavor to come forth more. Both ways are good, but the second appealed to me more and you will certainly still have a nice tomato based taste to everything, but you also get more of the other flavors too.
While your soup is simmering (only for about 40 minutes, I might add), you really need to make the parsley or basil or parsley AND basil or parsley AND thyme or parsley AND basil AND thyme pesto that’s suggested to accompany this soup. Oh, and grate ya some fresh Parmesan. Yes, you really should. It sounded like just a smidge too much extra work, but they take the soup to the next level. The bacon takes it up a notch, but the pesto and freshly grated cheese send it all into orbit. Where your taste buds await a soup-er (Get it? Super but SOUP-er? Ha!) explosion of flavor. No. Joke.
After your forty minutes is up, as you can see, the soup will have reduced down quite a bit and the color will deepen and the stars will align and you’ll drift along an ethereal wave of…sorry, memories of soup bliss talking there. What you’ll be ready for, actually, is a healthy sprinkling of that pesto and cheese. And by healthy I don’t mean skimpy, I mean a lot.
But wait! Don’t forget the tortellini! Know where I got ours? The freezer section. Yup. They take just as little time to cook as the fresh and they hold up much better, in my opinion, that the usual unfilled pasta.
Okay, okay okay! Now you should pile on that pesto and cheese and oh YUMS. This soup, folks, is heavenly. It’s also, for the most part, pretty healthy. All those veggies and the chickpeas, which, once again, I loved to bits, plus some kale for added greenery and awesomeness…love, soup-er love going on here. Chopping a load of stuff for a recipe has never been more worth it!
Smokey Minestrone with Tortellini & Pesto
Adapted slightly from Smoky Minestrone with Tortellini and Parsley or Basil Pesto, Food52.com
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cook Time: about 1 hour Level: Easy Serves: 4-6
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4-6 slices bacon, chopped into small pieces
- 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 leek, trimmed and sliced thinly
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 ribs of celery, chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 potato, peeled and chopped
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, low-sodium preferred
- 1 15 oz. can of cooked chickpeas, drained
- 1 28 oz. can of peeled San Marzano tomatoes, with juice
- 1 cup kale, chopped fine
- 1 9-ounce package cheese tortellini (frozen works well)
- Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling- optional
- Grated parmesan cheese for garnish- optional
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for about 5-8 minutes, or until well-browned and starting to crisp.
Add another tablespoon olive oil to the pan (if the rendered bacon fat is sufficient, skip the oil; if the bacon fat is excessive, remove all but two tablespoons), then the chopped onion, garlic and leek. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until softened, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the chopped carrot, celery, zucchini, potato and stir occasionally for about 3 minutes, leaving the vegetables still slightly crisp.
Add the stock, the chickpeas, and then the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you go. Add a few generous pinches of salt to taste. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender.
Add the kale and the tortellini, and continue to cook over a simmer until both are tender and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve garnished with a spoonful of the pesto, a few drops of the aged balsamic, and a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Since I did do some things a little differently than the original, this time the above directions are with my changes. See the link above all that if you’d like to try it from the original recipe. As they suggest, you could leave the bacon out entirely if you wish.
We didn’t use the balsamic as a garnish, but, again, the parm and pesto were insanely good and well worth the extra effort to chop and grate, all from scratch and fresh ingredients.
The kale is not really noticeable at one cup chopped, so if you’re a big fan of the stuff (love it personally), a little more wouldn’t hurt. Start with an extra quarter cup and see what suits you.
Have extra chicken stock on hand just in case. The second time I made this soup, it seemed as if the liquid reduced more than the first time, and I needed a little more stock before adding the pasta and kale. I only added about another half a cup of stock, though, and this rarely affects the bright flavors of reduced soups since the flavors will become more concentrated. Extra stock is also handy in case you’d like to loosen the soup up as leftovers later.