I love soup; I could eat it every day. And during long stretches of cold weather, I usually do! We don’t get much snow in the Puget Sound. My neighbors to the south may disagree with the recent weather events, but up here in the San Juans the snow usually skips us entirely or melts off within a day. But, it is cold during the winter here. The temperature doesn’t dip that far, it is true, but the coastal winds and the ever-present damp permeates everything and chills you through, right to the bone.
This soup is one of my cold weather favorites. It’s hearty and warming on a winter day. The pleasing aroma fills the kitchen as it cooks and the basil pesto hints at the promise of spring. It isn’t far off, although the endless gray sky days of January makes springtime seem impossibly far away!
The flavor of this soup is simply wonderful with the homemade pesto. It will thicken up as it cooks with the addition of the “mushy” Cannellini beans. Serve it over day old toasted artisan bread (traditional zuppe), as pictured, or with a fresh loaf of 100% Whole Wheat Bread With Olive Oil from Healthy Bread In Five Minutes A Day (yes, I will continue to sing this book’s praises!). For an extra treat, we chop up a handful of Kalamata olives and knead them directly into the dough before baking. SO good!
Spinach Zuppe With Pesto
1 large onion, chopped
3 ribs celery and leaves, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano
1/2 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped (or 1/4 cup dried)
2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 1/2 cups soaked Cannellini beans (from 1/2 cup dry), cooked until mushy (or slightly more for a thicker soup)
4 cups No Chicken or vegetable broth
8 cups loosely packed baby spinach, washed
4 basil pesto “ice cubes” (or 4 Tablespoons), recipe below
Day-old toasted artisan bread, cut into large chunks
Good quality Balsamic vinegar, optional
Mist a large soup pot with extra-virgin olive oil. Sauté the onion and celery until crisp-tender. Add the garlic, red chili pepper flakes, oregano and parsley; sauté for another minute.
Add the tomatoes with their juice, the beans and the broth; bring the soup to bubbling. Reduce the heat and add the baby spinach and the pesto cubes. Allow the soup to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is tender and vibrant green and the frozen pesto has melted, about 20 minutes. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
Ladle the soup over the cut-up toasted bread in soup bowls and serve. Or enjoy alongside a fresh loaf of crusty bread. Stir a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar into each bowl before serving, optional.
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This fresh pesto is wonderful spooned over pasta and as a pizza topping. The frozen pesto is a fantastic addition to Italian soups and stews.
During the summer months when I have more fresh basil than I can use, I make a large batch of this pesto to freeze for winter use. I multiply the ingredient quantities by 4 and freeze the pesto in ice-cube trays with lids until solid. When frozen, remove the 1-tablespoon pesto cubes from the ice-cube trays and store the cubes in tightly sealed freezer (or vacuum seal) bags. To use, remove the desired number of cubes from the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator.
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
Process all the ingredients in a food processor until the mixture is a coarse purée. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides, as needed, until the desired consistency is achieved.