Vegan Minestrone Soup

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This hearty soup delivers plenty of warmth, flavor and heft. Even the staunchest carnivores will enjoy it.

The key is to sauté the vegetables first to meld the flavors and almost caramelize them. This gives the soup a depth that compensates for the lack of meat and fat.

I served this topped with toasted bread crumbs, a drizzle of high-quality olive oil and some crusty bread on the side. It was the perfect supper on a cold night, and I felt virtuous due to the strict vegan credential — an added benefit.

Best of all, the batch was so enormous that it was the gift that kept on giving: I was able to deliver a container to a friend who had a recent hospital stay, give some to a neighbor whose mother-in-law was staying with her, freeze some for future use and enjoy it for lunch all week.

Another great thing about this recipe is its flexibility — you can use any combination of vegetables you have on hand and cater to personal preference.

If you detest parsnips, skip them. Love mushrooms? Chuck them in. No frozen spinach? No problem! Use kale, chard or omit the greens entirely. Swap the pasta for cooked rice or quinoa.

And if the soup becomes too thick, especially after sitting overnight, just add more broth, water, tomato puree or wine.

Vegan Minestrone Soup

Serves 12

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 carrots, chopped

2 parsnips, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

½ teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon thyme

½ teaspoon rosemary

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, plus 1 can filled with water

1 quart vegetable stock (or more)

¾ cup dry red wine

2 zucchinis, chopped

1 handful parsley, chopped

½ pound frozen chopped spinach

2 15-ounce cans white or kidney beans, drained

½ pound elbow macaroni or other small pasta shape, cooked to al dente

For serving: toasted homemade bread crumbs, extra-virgin olive oil and/or chopped fresh herbs.

In a large pot, heat the oil and add the onion, garlic, carrots, parsnips, celery, oregano, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Sauté for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are softened and beginning to caramelize.

Add the tomatoes, fill the can with water, then add the water to the soup. Add the vegetable stock and red wine and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.

Add the zucchini, parsley, spinach, beans and pasta. If the soup is too thick, add more water or vegetable stock.

Simmer another 30 minutes until all the vegetables are soft and cooked through.

Check the pot periodically and stir; add more liquid (water or vegetable stock) if the soup is too thick.

Check for seasoning; add salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaf.

Serve solo or garnished with toasted bread crumbs and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, accompanied by a loaf of crusty bread.