TJ’s Hidden Veggie Minestrone

I know the origins of Minestrone soup are sketchy and there’s no specific rule out there that says anyone’s version is right or wrong. All I can find is that it should have vegetables. Some say it should also have beans and zucchini and be served with noodles. Some are vegetarian, some aren’t.

In an effort to sneak more vegetables into my son’s diet, I was searching for soup recipes one day while my husband and I reminisced about the minestrone soup that was kind of famous from a restaurant near where we both grew up. The restaurant has long since closed, but anyone who lived in our town in the 1980s will know the restaurant and their famous minestrone soup.

One thing that I do to this soup is blend it all together with my stick blender. This masks the vegetables and makes it something my son will actually eat with enthusiasm.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 stalks celery, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced
  • 1 -28 oz can diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 whole bay leaf
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 piece of Parmesan cheese rind, about 2 inches long
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (I prefer low sodium)

Optional add-ins:

  • Half a pound of cooked noodles of your choice (we like shells)
  • A big handful of fresh, chopped spinach
  • A can of drained and rinsed Cannellini beans (add to the pot when you add the tomatoes)

Ingredients not present on picture day: Bay leaf, pasta, and Balsamic vinegar

Directions:

In a heavy pot, cook the carrots, onion and celery in olive oil over medium heat, stirring so they cook evenly and don’t burn.

Add the dried herbs, bay leaf, salt, and pepper.

After about 5-7 minutes, add the zucchini and garlic. Continue to stir occasionally.

Once the onions are translucent and the carrots have softened a bit, add the red wine, balsamic vinegar, and tomatoes. Let them cook for a little bit and scrape some of the cooked vegetable bits from the bottom of the pot.

Parmesan cheese rind is one of those odd secret ingredients I have only just recently learned about. My local grocery store sells a bin of about a dozen chunks for a little over a dollar. I keep them in my freezer and use them when I make soups and stews. When we’re using Parmesan cheese, I save the rind and pop it into the freezer. 

Add the Parmesan cheese rind and vegetable broth. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

Once the soup has reduced a bit (I let it simmer for 30 minutes to an hour) turn the heat off. If you want to let it simmer for longer, you can. Just put a lid on so the liquid doesn’t cook out too much. Fish the bay leaf and Parmesan cheese rind out of the pot and discard.

Taste the soup and add salt, pepper and sugar to taste. I usually a tablespoon or two of sugar to cut the acid and it seems to give the flavor some dimension.

The consistency of the soup at this point is entirely up to you. You can pour this over some noodles and serve it as is. In our house, my preschooler has a veggie aversion, so I blend the soup with my stick blender until it’s smooth and there are no big chunks. To him it’s a sauce-like soup and he loves it.

We pour the soup over some cooked noodles, sprinkle a little grated parmesan cheese on top and toss in a few of my hidden veggie Italian meatballs. Serve with some crusty bread and everyone is happy. Some days I throw in a handful of chopped, fresh spinach when the soup is simmering (spinach is one veggie my son will eat). 

On it’s own this soup is vegetarian. If you omit the Parmesan cheese, it’s vegan. My son thinks he’s eating a delicious, red, meatball soup when in fact there are onions, carrots, celery, zucchini, and tomatoes hidden all over the place. Win!

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