Meatless Monday: Minestrone

I’ve never officially observed Meatless Monday. And it’s not because I’m so enamored with meat. I mean, I do enjoy the carnivorous side of my omnivorous diet quite a lot. I count among life’s pleasures a perfectly grilled grassfed steak, a steaming bowl of beef stew, a slow roasted pork shoulder or lamb cooked with rosemary and garlic. But I also couldn’t imagine life without vegetables in all their various incarnations. I love them raw, steamed, stir fried, sauteed, roasted, grilled and braised. A simple green salad tossed in a good vinaigrette makes me very, very happy. So does a pan of roasted Brussels sprouts.
Over the course of a week, a month, a year, I eat vegetarian meals more often than not, by a long shot. Sometimes they’re even vegan. Because I’m an omnivore with a fairly broad palate and because I believe that a plant-based diet is key to health, whether someone chooses to eat animal products, or not. You can eat meat and/or dairy and still eat a lot of plant. I do.
Anyhoo, with all the brouhaha last week over the USDA disavowing Meatless Monday (the most ridiculous thing ever, really, because the “agriculture” in USDA also stands for farmers who grow fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, thank you very much), I decided to stage my own household rebellion and hop on board the MM bandwagon (I’m also making Fridays “Fish Friday,” even though I’m not Catholic…I just don’t eat enough fish).
You’ve probably heard of Meatless Monday, but in case you weren’t aware, the organization behind it is not promoting vegetarianism. They are simply promoting eating a little less meat and a few more vegetables. And that is an awesome thing.
So, today’s Monday, and I’m going to share with you a little meatless recipe of sorts that I threw together when I got home last week. It was on a Wednesday, as it turns out, because what better day to make a recipe that uses a lot of veggies than the day I get my Full Circle produce delivery and have a gaggle of begging-to-be-picked zucchini in the backyard garden? Exactly.
It amuses me sometimes when soup, generally considered to be a cool-weather food, calls for the must summery of ingredients. Like summer squash and basil and tomatoes and such. Minestrone is one of those soups, and I always seem to crave it when those three foods are so not in season here. (Yes, I know there are many versions of winter minestrone with winter vegetables, but they never seem to call my name as strongly).
So, if you want to make my delicious and nutritious version of minestrone, here’s what you do. First, chop an onion (or two if they are small, as mine were) and a carrot or two, and  a stalk or two of celery if you have it (I didn’t). Also chop a few potatoes (anywhere from 1-2 cups worth) into small dice, around 3/8″. Heat a glug of olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat, and when it’s shimmering, dump in the chopped onion, carrots (and celery) and cook, stirring often, until the whole mess starts to soften and is a bit golden. This will take about 5 minutes.
Add the potato to the pot and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir for about 2 minutes, then add 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used chicken) and 1-2 cups tomatoes. I used canned tomatoes, but you can use fresh (obviously). If using fresh, chop them before you start cooking so they’re ready to dump in the pot. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are fairly soft, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, chop 2 cups (or even a bit more, if you like) of softer vegetables like summer squash, green beans or dark leafy greens, and mince a few cloves of garlic. I used all of those, with kale for the greens. I actually had about 4 cups of veg when I was done chopping, but about half of that was kale, which cooks down to almost nothing. (If you want to get all your chopping done at once, feel free to do this part before cooking starts. Just know that you will have enough time do do this bit after adding the potatoes, tomatoes and broth). Once the potatoes are fairly soft, add the new veggies and a can of white beans and cook until the veggies are very tender, about 15 minutes. If you have fresh basil on hand, chop it and add it in the last few minutes of cooking. Alternately, you can stir in a few tablespoons of pesto. I had some small frozen portions pesto from last summer that served perfectly for this purpose.
Taste to see if the soup needs more salt and/or pepper, then serve with a topping of freshly grated Parmesan.
There is no one right way to make minestrone, so experiment! Use more veg, less veg, all beans and no potatoes (or the reverse). You can add pasta, but this works best if you will be serving the whole pot at once. When you use pasta in soup, it tends to get mushy if you have leftovers. Or little household of two (humans) enjoyed the leftovers for a second dinner and a lunch. Bon appetit!