Saturday, March 1, 2008

Italian Vegetable Soup

When I first moved into my new apartment (first apartment), I thought "man, I'm gonna cook every day and it's gonna be awesome." One full semester later, I had cooked hardly anything fantastic and was feeling pretty down about it.
Flash forward to this semester (last semester in college!), and I'm cooking every day and loving it. Somedays, admittedly, "cooking" means throwing some broccoli into boxed mac and cheese, but most days I make something yummy -- or eat leftover yummies.

One of my favorite concoctions this semester has been a wonderful Italian Vegetable Soup. I found the recipe here at one of the food blogs I read. (I highly recommend her blog, though the recipes tend to be a little beyond my budget for spices and fancy things.. like cheese rinds). I really enjoyed the challenge of a multi-day cooking adventure and I really loved the resulting gallon of soup that graced my fridge, freezer, and roommate's bellies for the next few weeks.

In order to afford this soup, I made just a few adjustments to the original recipe. First, I halved the recipe (good thing, too because my pots are not very big). Then, I omitted the sage leaves. And that's it. Overall, this soup took about two days to cook (probably about 5 hours total work with plenty of "oh man, I could've done those at the same time"s). Costing about $10US to purchase broth, veggies and beans, I'd say that this soup yields a lot of awesome for a very small price.
I also appreciate how healthy this soup is: lots of protein from the beans and tons of vegetable nutrition from the veggies. Lots of variety, too -- your basic celery and carrots complemented by onions, cabbage, Swiss red chard, and Cannellini beans (among other things).

I love shortcuts. It makes me really happy to be able to multi-task or find a simpler way of doing something that could be challenging. On of the things I did in this recipe to make everything just a little easier was that, instead of using long carrots, I used the pre-peeled baby carrots that I buy for snacking. I like baby carrots because, unlike their adult friends, I don't have to waste time peeling them and possibly wasting a lot of carrot material.

Speaking of Swiss red chard... WOW! Who knew that a funny-looking relative of the beet would taste so good and yield so many nutrients? Outside of soup, it tastes absolutely fantastic sauteed in butter with garlic and served over rice. The way I did mine was I chopped the hard, crunchy stem out of the leaves and, after chopping the stem into bite size pieces, sauteed it for about three minutes before throwing in the torn up leaves and cooking the whole thing for about two more minutes. Everything was perfectly edible when done this way -- instead of soggy leaves and too-hard stem. You should treat the stem and leaves as if they were different vegetables.

One downside of this fantastic veggie is that it does not keep well in the fridge -- use it within two or three days of buying it or else it wilts and gets ugly (and probably tastes bad, too).

Even my roommate, who hates vegetables, got into the Swiss red chard that I fed her.
Do you have any serving/feasting ideas for chard? It's my new favorite vegetable and I'd love to get more mileage out of it.

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