Slow-Cooker Minestrone

by Lori on September 23, 2010

My one tireless zucchini plant in its early stages of production.

The work horse of my vegetable garden continues to supply me with a few zucchini each week.  This amazes me considering the unusually cool summer we had.  But with a recent change in weather, the sunny days we longed for in the middle of summer have now caused a resurgence of growth, and I’m gladly accepting all the zucchini I can get until the plant meets its fate.  Sadly, I anticipate this to be sooner rather than later.  The plant is pathetic and over-tired looking.  I guess I would be too if I spent the last few months cranking out offspring on a weekly basis.

In the summer, the good folks over at Cooks Country tossed this recipe into their August/September issue to whet the appetites of those who love soup.  I am one of those people and was enticed by the idea of the soup being made in a crock pot, yet I didn’t have the heart to post this recipe in the middle of summer.  Piping hot soup was probably the last thing on people’s minds especially in those areas where temperatures were soaring.  So I figured I would give it a try, freeze the leftovers and post it when more seasonally appropriate.

One cup of great Northern white beans.

If you’re one of those people who thinks that making soup in a Crock Pot seems a little far-fetched, I hear you.  But if you’re familiar with Cooks Illustrated and Cooks Country magazines, you can put your faith in their recipes.  They’ve done all the testing, and I wasn’t disappointed.  That said, this isn’t one of those Crock Pot recipes where you drop in the ingredients, turn the appliance on and forget about it for 6 to 8 hours.  I really like those kind of recipes, and this one is sort of like that.  However, there is a bit of prep beforehand and just before serving.  But what it produces is a hearty, delicious soup with minimal effort and no need to be hovering over the stove stirring the pot.

Draining the beans after simmering them for about 20 minutes.

Whether you work inside the home or out, or if you’ve got children involved in after-school activities, this soup partnered with a loaf of crusty bread is all you’ll need for dinner.  Perfect for those chilly nights when you need a little help getting dinner on the table.  And if you’re vegetable garden is producing a late-season crop of zucchini, this soup is a perfect use for it.

I used canned San Marzano tomatoes. But any kind of canned plum tomato would work.
After adding the onions, carrots, garlic and tomatoes, cook until the pan is nearly dry.  This was about as dry as I could get the pan, and it took me longer than 5 to 7 minutes.  The idea here is to reduce the liquid down and concentrate the flavors without overcooking the carrots.
After adding in the broth, it’s time to add the basil, oregano and red pepper flakes.
Pour everything including the partially cooked beans into a Crock Pot set to low or high depending on how soon you want it to be done.  It makes a lot as you can see, and the zucchini, chard and pasta haven’t been added yet.

I prefer to cook the pasta separately and add it to each bowl.  This prevents the pasta from absorbing too much liquid and getting mushy.

Slow-Cooker Minestrone
Recipe from Cooks Country August/September 2010

1 cup dried medium-sized white beans, rinsed and picked over
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions chopped fine
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
2 cups loosely packed basil leaves, divided
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, seeded and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 bunch Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves chopped
1/2 cup small soup pasta (I used Ditalini)
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for garnish

1. Cook Beans.  Bring beans and enough water to cover by 1 inch to low boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until beans are just beginning to soften, about 20 minutes.  Drain beans and transfer to slow cooker.

2. Saute aromatics.  Heat 3 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering.  Add onions and carrots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes and cook until pan is nearly dry, 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in broth, water, 1/2 cup basil, oregano, and pepper flakes and bring to boil; transfer to slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low until beans are tender, 6 to 7 hours (or cook on high 5 to 6 hours).

3. Finish Soup.  Stir zucchini, chard, and pasta into slow cooker and cook, covered, on high until pasta is tender, 20 to 30 minutes.  Stir in remaining basil (chopped if you’d prefer) and remaining oil.  Season with salt and pepper and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Notes:
- To make ahead: Soup can be made ahead through step 2 and refrigerated in airtight container for 2 days.  To finish, bring to boil in Dutch oven.  Stir in zucchini, chard, and pasta; reduce heat to low; and simmer until pasta is tender, about 10 minutes.
- Recommended dried beans are great Northern white beans or cannellini beans.  Canned beans will not hold up in the slow cooking process.
- I have also made this soup using kale, and it works fine too. 
- If you are going to make and freeze, I would strongly suggest leaving the zucchini uncooked, and adding the pasta and chard or kale when reheating the defrosted soup over medium low heat. I found that my previously added zucchini was too mushy for my taste when reheated.  If left raw, the zucchini will be flavored by the soup and allowed to cook during the reheating.  Same thing goes for the pasta.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous October 14, 2010 at 9:27 pm

All I can say is….your kids and hubby are lucky! This makes me soooooo hungry. I wish I would have picked up shrimp at TJ's and I've been craving that bread (forget about the chicken) from the Chicken in a Basket!!! Just give me the basket please!!! Laura

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Pretty. Good. Food. October 22, 2010 at 1:53 am

I love a good slow cooked meal! This seems so easy and delicious :)

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Lemons and Lavender October 27, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Laura, You never know…the bread basket fairy may drop something off on your doorstep when you least expect it…

Pretty.Good.Food, thanks for visiting my site. I hope you make this soup. It is such a treat to know your meal is waiting for you after a long day. Enjoy!

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shannon September 11, 2011 at 1:38 am

this soup sounds fabulous! I’m going to make it for a small dinner party we’re having tomorrow and will then re-post the recipe on my blog – with credit to you of course! Can’t wait to taste it, so yummy!
shannon recently posted..Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip CookiesMy Profile

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Lori September 11, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Thank you Shannon. It’s a great recipe and it makes a ton, but you should acknowledge that the recipe comes from Cooks Country. It’s their recipe. But I would love a mention in your post!

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