Perfect Vegetarian Minestrone with Optional Sausage
They say having a baby changes everything. And it’s true. Having a baby changes EVERYTHING. But not just capital-letter EVERYTHING. It also changes lowercase everything. Every little thing.
Case in point: a recent morning in which I, while congratulating myself for being oh-so on the ball, started prepping dinner before the sun even dared show its face. And because of my beloved, wonderful one-year-old (and, okay, the demanding cat), a soup that used to take me easily less than 30 minutes to assemble ended up taking me exactly three hours and fifteen minutes from first swipe with the peeler just to being ready to simmer.
Here’s a glimpse into why parenthood changes everything.
Oh, but first real quick, a note about this soup. I call it “perfect minestrone” not because I’ve tried every single minestrone on Earth, nor am I the world’s foremost minestrone expert. I dubbed it perfect because I did try several minestrone recipes that ranged anywhere from vapid to stew-like, and I finally settled on this version, tweaking and editing until just right. Chunky vegetables, hearty beans, pasta, and sausage – if you want it – mingle together in a rich, hearty vegetable broth. Just the thing to warm you up on a chilly winter day.
Key to perfect vegetarian minestrone, I think? 1) A Parmesan rind 2) potato & squash for a little added heartiness 3) simmer the minestrone a good, long while 4) pasta added only at the very end of the process, along with a generous handful of chopped parsley.
And now for my scintillating (ha) – and perhaps slightly cautionary – tale.
3:30 a.m. – Alarm goes off. Hear toddler jibber-jabbering downstairs; hubby is not in bed. Learn he’s been snoozing with our fussy teething lovely on the recliner since about midnight. Skip working on the blog this morning; time for a shift change. Hubby goes upstairs and goes back to sleep.
3:45 a.m. – Yep, toddler definitely awake. Playtime!
5:10 a.m. – Begin peeling squash for tonight’s minestrone. Feel smart, efficient, and ahead of the game.
5:12 a.m. – Toddler grumpy. Nap time! I let her sleep on my lap. It’s not spoiling! Cuddling rocks! P.S. Recliners are heinous behemoths visually, yes, but damn are they godsends for parents. Recline, sigh, browse food blogs on iPad.
5:30 a.m. – Hubby gets up for work, showers, makes coffee, brings me a big mug (love that guy), stumbles out the door blurry-eyed for a day of work.
6:45 a.m. – Cat begins meowing incessantly because clearly, even though I’m reclined and cuddling the sleeping babe and covered with a blanket, I was just waiting for his command so I could jump up, drop the baby, and let him out for the fifth time this morning. Meow. Meow. Now. Now. Ever notice how close those two sound?
6:46 a.m. – Toddler awake (thanks, cat). Playtime! Dogs, always so excited when the toddler wakes, run over to greet her. Daisy the golden retriever is so amped, she squeaks her patented wookie noise for a good solid 60 seconds. Toddler returns the favor by saying “Daiz” for the very first time while patting dog. My heart swells.
6:58 a.m. – Tune into Clifford the Big Red Dog, even though I try not to have any TV on for the little one. But I would like something to help her stay occupied so that I can continue peeling the squash for tonight’s minestrone. And … well, I kinda love Clifford.
6:59 a.m. – Feel two laser-like pinpoints on the back of left leg. Turn around to see the intently-staring cat wanting back inside. Let cat in and await his next command.
7:00 a.m. – Whoops! Retrieve slobbery nugget of dog food from toddler’s mouth. At least it’s that expensive stuff that’s made with avocados.
7:01 a.m. – About two more peels down when I hear grunting from in front of the TV. Yep, time for a diaper change!
7:05 a.m. – Text husband to let him know the toddler is definitely no longer constipated. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
7:10 a.m. – Sesame Street now on. Toddler lounges on the dog bed with Daisy’s rope toy, occasionally turning around to tell Elmo on TV “hi.” Oatmeal simmers on the stove while I scoop the seeds out of the squash. Two hours in and I’m finally making progress!
7:11 a.m. – Now. Now. Now. Cat wants water.
7:15 a.m. – Toddler continues playing with dog toys. Cat contemplates next command.
7:45 a.m. – Have about 1/2 cup of squash cubed when I realize I honestly cannot remember if I washed my hands after changing the baby’s diaper. I’m positive I did (I always do, of course) but … cannot specifically remember doing so. Wash hands while cursing sleep deprivation. Discard that 1/2 cup of diced squash, wash remaining squash well, cube remaining squash.
Oh, how I wish I was kidding about that one.
8:05 a.m. – Toddler finds squash peel on kitchen floor. Decide I can either berate myself for being sloppy and dropping a choking hazard or delight in helping continue her pincer grasp motor skills. Choose latter. Throw peel away. Start chopping potatoes.
8:06 a.m. – NOW! Cat wants outside. Dog wants outside. Dog wants immediately back inside. Toddler splashes happily in dog water. I finish chopping the potatoes.
8:09 a.m. – Toddler practices standing while holding on to my calves as I carefully,without moving a leg muscle so she can hang on, open cans of beans and tomatoes. When I move, toddler plops down on butt and screams like the world is over. 10 seconds later she babbles happily on the floor. Wonder where she gets her sense of drama.
8:10 a.m. – Where are my Parmesan rinds?! WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?!!! Oh there they are. In the back of the freezer, where I left them.
8:11 a.m. – Finally get the kid in her high chair for her oatmeal. Chop onion and celery in between spoonfuls of oatmeal for the both of us. More progress!
8:13 a.m. – Carrots are chopped. Veggies are in the pot!
8:20 a.m. – Chopping sage and feeding toddler oatmeal. Realize how maniacal I look hovering over the high chair with a sharp Santoku in one hand and a plastic spoon full of oatmeal in the other. Yikes.
8:23 a.m. – Spill vegetable broth all over the floor. Naturally. Think about how I want to kick future food-blogging-me in the throat when I sit down later and write a tip such as “Pressed for time in the evenings? Simply start this soup in the morning, letting it simmer for an hour or so. Cool and refrigerate until about 30 minutes before dinnertime, then just warm the soup and add the pasta, zucchini, parsley and optional sausage. Done!” Whatever.
8:25 a.m. – Broth, beans, herbs, garlic, squash and potatoes … all in the pot! Victory dance! Now I can sit and eat some breakfast with the kid.
8:26 a.m. – Cat wants back inside and wants food, now, of course. Feed cat.
8:35 a.m. – Let the babe have free reign of the rest of her blueberry oatmeal so that I could do some clean-up. Parents especially know what’s coming next…
8:37 a.m. – Bath time while soup simmers.
Fast forward through a day of playing, more of the toddler refusing to nap anywhere but on me, more panting dogs, more demanding cat, more soup preparation interrupted and then finally …
5:30 p.m. – Voila! Dinner served!
Now wasn’t that easy?!
Pressed for time in the evenings? Simply start this soup in the morning, letting it simmer for an hour or so. Cool and refrigerate until about 30 minutes before dinnertime, then just warm the soup and add the pasta, zucchini, parsley and optional sausage. Done!
Perfect Vegetarian Minestrone with Optional Sausage
Chunky vegetables, hearty beans, pasta, and sausage - if you want it - mingle together in a rich, hearty vegetable broth. Just the thing to warm you up on a chilly winter day.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1 stalk celery, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 - 2 medium yukon gold potatoes, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 cup peeled diced winter squash (I like gold nugget, butternut, or sweet dumpling)
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 15-ounce can white kidney (cannelloni) beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 Parmesan rind (about the size of a domino is perfect)
- 1/2 cup dry pasta of your choice
- 1 medium zucchini, diced (about 1 cup)
- Handful fresh parsley, chopped (about 1/2 cup chopped)
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Grated Parmesan cheese for topping
- Optional sausage
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 pound - 1 pound ground sweet Italian sausage (1/2 pound if you're adding to half the soup, 1 pound for the entire thing)
- In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes until soft.
- Add the garlic and saute, stirring, for about 1 minute.
- Add the potatoes, squash, broth, tomatoes, beans, sage, thyme, bay leaves, and Parmesan rind. Continue cooking over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the soup comes to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer soup for 1 to 2 hours (I prefer 2 hours to really get the flavors mingling).
- About 20 minutes before you're ready to serve the soup, cook the pasta to al dente, according to your package directions. Drain add to the soup along with the zucchini and parsley. Continue to simmer for about 20 minutes, then taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired.
- If adding sausage to all or part of the soup, heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan and brown the sausage completely, breaking it up into small pieces. Remove any excess oil.
- If adding sausage to only half of the soup, ladle just under half of the soup into the saucepan, over the drained sausage. This should be about 4 - 5 cups of soup. If you're adding sausage to the entire batch, just stir it directly into your pot of soup.
- Remove bay leaves, taste again, and adjust seasonings if desired.
- Serve sprinkled with shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired.
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