Monday, February 27, 2012

Stomach-Soothing Minestrone

There are Sundays when I spend the whole day cooking a feast, then there are Sundays when all I want to do is make some nutritious, cleansing soup. After Nate and Deb's wedding on Saturday night, this was definitely a day of cleansing (when I was finally able to move off of the couch!), which meant soup was on the menu.

Because I knew zucchini, spinach and cannellini beans would play a major role, I narrowed in on a couple of minestrone recipes then got creative, making enough beans for both the soup and a bean spread, and roasting a couple of red bell peppers that I also used for both.

Thanks to my chef constantly extolling the values of using a pressure cooker, I finally used mine for something other than beets and made both the beans and the soup in it. To make beans, simply cover them with about 2 inches of water, add a 2-inch piece of kombu (a seaweed that is supposed to make the beans more tender) and bring to a full boil. Let boil fully, uncovered, for 5 minutes, then skim the surface to remove the gassy foam. Then cover and pressure-cook for 35 minutes to 1 hour, until beans are soft. If you check the beans and they're not done, be sure to add more water if it's needed. When beans are fininshed, drain the water and use immediately or store in a sealed container for up to three days.

Minestrone Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chicken breasts, diced (or use 3-4 cups cooked, shredded chicken)
1/2 cup roasted red bell pepper, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
4 cups broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or less if using store-bought broth)
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup zucchini, chopped
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
1 cup uncooked elbow noodles
10 ounches fresh spinach, roughly chopped
Parmesan cheese

Heat pressure cooker over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil. Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic and stir until onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chicken (if using shredded chicken, add with the broth), and stir occasionally until chicken is no longer pink on the outside. Stir in diced peppers, tomatoes, broth and spices and bring to a simmer.

Add zucchini and cannellini beans, bring to boil, then add noodles and cover. Pressure cook for 10 minutes; remove lid, stir in spinach and serve topped with Parmesan cheese.

Cannellini Bean and Roasted Red Bell Pepper Spread
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
1 roasted red bell pepper (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Place beans, bell pepper, salt and chile flakes in a food processor and slowly drizzle in olive oil as you run the machine. When mixture begins to run smoothly, add lemon juice. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Note: Feel free to add 1 to 2 cloves of minced garlic, if desired. Just keep in mind that the flavor can get pretty potent if you're planning to use the bean spread for more than a day.

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