I love soup, and often check them out at restaurants seeing if they resemble something that appears tasty to me, or if they bring back fond childhood memories or fresh recent ones. Soup comforts and satisfies, especially on cold, snow days, like we often have in Denver, even as the sun shines!
I like my soups a bit thick, although not stand-up-like-a-spoon-in-them thick, but I lean toward that direction, especially if one ingredient is barley, which can be very thick, but I digress… I detest thin watery soup, as if the cook/chef wants to stretch his or her budget to seemingly offer more portions to their clients by skimping on ingredient, and instead waters down the soup, which totally cuts the taste! Plus the solid foods are mushy and tasteless!
I like soup with or without solid pieces of vegetables, such as slightly thick creamed vegetable soups with the strong persistent flavor of the particular vegetable, rather than too much added water or salt which interferes with the genuine taste of the vegetable. (Sometimes sweet potato soup can be too thin and watery and not enough true flavor of the sweet potato.) Chowders too appeal to me with a few hunks of potatoes or seafood items in them, like the soup the Red Lobster restaurant serves. Sometimes at restaurants soups start out thick, but for some reason they turn thin and liquidy before you finish it! I don’t like that at all!
A few years ago, while visiting a friend back East, she and her husband shared lunch with me at The Olive Garden. Jim ordered the pasta e fagioli. Uh, I thought, maybe I’ll try that since he had eaten it there on another visit and raved about it while we all fused over what we were going to eat. And below is my interpretation of that soup.
INGREDIENTS Serves 6-8
1 lb. ground beef or pork, 85 percent lean
2 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 – 1/2 head cabbage, coarsely chopped
3 8 oz cans tomato sauce
1 15 oz can stewed or diced tomatoes
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 32 oz containers chicken and or beef broth
2-3 large russet or red potatoes, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 1/4 cups small pasta
1-2 cups water, divided – use the first cup, and use the second cup if needed to thin
2 cans beans drained and rinsed, if desired, using black, garbanzo, kidney, Great Northern, or chickpeas
1 additional can of beans (optional)
2 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp pepper, divided
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp oregano
3/4 tsp basil
3/4 tsp thyme
3/4 tsp mixed Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp rosemary
1 tsp Maggie Seasoning sauce
2 bay leaves
1 hunk of an old saved rind (from the freezer) of Parmesan cheese
1 In a large stock pot, heat the oil to medium high. Add the meat, break it up in pieces, and cook until it looses its pink color, about 3-5 minutes. Once brown, remove the meat with a slotted spoon to a bowl or plate, leaving about 2 tablespoons of oil in the pot.
2 Add the carrots, cook them for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the celery and onions, cooking everything for ten-twelve minutes, until the vegetables are nearly tender, but not totally and not mushy. Sprinkle one teaspoon of salt on the vegetables, along with half a teaspoon of pepper, and the sugar. Add garlic the last minute and turn the heat down, stirring now and then.
3 Add the broths, tomato sauces, stewed or diced tomatoes, tomato paste, the oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, mixed Italian seasoning, seasoning sauce, 3/4 cup water and the bay leaves. Bring the pot to a boil. Turn it down, cover and cook for 30-40 minutes on a low simmer as it reduces and thickens slightly.
4 Raise the heat to medium, add the cheese rind, cabbage, potatoes and pasta. Add more salt and the rest of the pepper. Cook for ten minutes, lower the heat and cook 5- 10 minutes until everything is just about fork tender, the pasta cooked to your liking.
5 Add the beans and return the meat to the pot. Cook everything for about 5-10 minutes on medium-low, until it’s hot and bubbly, and tender. Remove the bay leaves, and the softened cheese rind, if it has not disintegrated. Add more water to thin the soup if desired, or just a little more liquid to adjust the soup to a thickness level you’re pleased with.
I’d love to hear your versions of this soup, with different additions, or exclusions? Or perhaps another soup you really love cooking and serving?
TIPS AND TWEAKS
- To make this soup less tomato heavy, use more chicken stock and less tomato sauce, cutting out the stewed tomatoes (add more chicken stock) and reduce the tomato paste by 1-2 tablespoons.
- To make the soup vegetarian, eliminate the chicken and beef stock and use only vegetable or water. Also, add a few more vegetables, sliced, like zucchini, eggplant, string beans (not sliced) or others of your choosing. Add these at step 4 (saute them, briefly). However, do not add too much, unless you want more of a vegetable soup rather than pasta and beans.
- All the beef or pork can be left out and substituted with 1/4 lb- 1/2 lb of thick bacon. Cook the bacon first until slightly crisp; then remove to the side. Add the vegetables, and later return the bacon back.
- If you have small amounts of leftover cooked rice, or other cooked vegetables, you can add them at step 5.
- Serve the soup with a grating of Parmesan cheese.
- Serve the soup with toasty bread and olive oil or butter.
- If you have fresh or dried herbs in bunches wrap them tightly with their stems on in a cheese cloth, tied with string. Add them at step 3, and remove before serving. Or use fresh or dried selections. Remember that 1 teaspoon dried herb is equivalent to one tablespoon fresh. Some cooks believe that the following dried herbs are better for cooking than fresh ones: oregano, thyme, winter savory, and sage.
- For a spicy soup add cayenne pepper to your liking, or just more regular pepper, or garam masala, an Indian flavor with a potent kick.