Vegetables add big flavor to hearty Italian soups

October 28, 1998|By DEBORAH MADISON | DEBORAH MADISON,EATING WELL United Feature Syndicate

Dish up the warm, hearty comfort of an Italian soup.

When you think "Italian soup," the first thing that comes to mind is probably minestrone. The name means "big soup." Indeed, it's the kind of soup that's substantial enough to make a meal. Although minestrone is often made with meat broth, my version uses a variety of fresh vegetables that make their own fragrant broth. After the chopping, this two-step recipe needs only about 40 minutes to cook, making it a perfect weeknight feast.

The cauliflower recipe that follows is a simple but super zuppa. Rich and elegant, this soup takes a less-than-popular vegetable and turns it into a creamy crowd-pleaser. It makes a warming light supper or a wonderful starter course for a graceful Italian menu for entertaining.

Green Vegetable Minestrone

Makes about 13 cups, for 8 servings

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 small leeks, white and light green parts only, quartered, washed and sliced

2 small stalks celery, diced

1 medium onion, chopped

1- 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced

1 potato, peeled and diced

8 cups water

1 cup short pasta, such as bow ties, elbows or shells

8 cups chopped green Swiss chard leaves

1 15- 1/2 -ounce can chickpeas, rinsed

1 cup frozen green peas

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or basil

In a soup pot or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add leeks, celery and onion; season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, zucchini and potato and cook, stirring, about 1 minute more. Add water and remaining 1 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, 12 to 15 minutes. (The recipe can be made ahead to this point. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat before continuing.)

Add pasta and chard; cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Add chickpeas and green peas and simmer until pasta is al dente, 3 to 4 minutes more. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. TTC Garnish with Parmesan and parsley (or basil). Serve immediately.

Per serving: 245 calories; 9 grams protein; 8 grams fat (1.6 grams saturated fat); 36 grams carbohydrate; 785 milligrams sodium; 3 milligrams cholesterol; 6 grams fiber

Cauliflower Soup

Makes about 8 cups, for 8 servings

Note: Save the trimmings from the cauliflower, leeks and potatoes to make the broth (recipe follows).

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil (not extra-virgin)

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2 leeks, white parts only, quartered lengthwise, washed and sliced

3/4 teaspoon salt

4 cups cauliflower florets

1 medium potato, peeled and sliced

6 cups Vegetable Broth

freshly ground white pepper to taste

2 teaspoons butter

4 1/2 -inch-thick slices country bread, toasted and cut in half

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a soup pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add leeks and salt; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften and begin to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add cauliflower and potato; cook, stirring often, until cauliflower begins to soften, 5 to 7 minutes more. (If vegetables start to stick, add a little water.)

Add broth and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

In a blender or food processor, puree soup in batches. (Use caution when blending hot liquids.) Return soup to a clean pot and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. If the soup seems too thick, add hot water to achieve desired consistency. Stir in butter. (The soup will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.)

Divide toasts among 8 soup plates. Sprinkle with cheese and ladle soup over toast. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Tip: To achieve a velvety texture, puree the soup in a blender.

Per serving: 170 calories; 5 grams protein; 4 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat); 21 grams carbohydrate; 393 milligrams sodium; 5 milligrams cholesterol; 3 grams fiber

Vegetable Broth

Vegetable trimmings provide the base for a nice rich broth. To add depth of flavor to Cauliflower Soup, try this Vegetable Broth:

To a soup pot, add the base from 1 cauliflower, trimmings from 2 leeks, peels from 1 potato, 1 sliced onion, 1 sliced carrot, 2 sliced celery stalks (with leaves), 1 cup sliced mushrooms, 12 parsley stems, 4 thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover with 7 cups water; simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Strain. (Refrigerate for up to 2 days; freeze for up to 6 months.) Makes about 6 cups.

Note: For an all-purpose broth, omit the cauliflower.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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