As a polar vortex takes hold of the country, there is nothing more comforting than a bowl of hearty beef minestrone soup and warm homemade bread.
Chock-full of tender ground beef, vegetables, beans, and pasta, this soup is very filling and is especially good topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Some of us here are avoiding pasta these days, so I sometimes cook the pasta separately and let people add it to their soup when they dish it up.
This soup also freezes wonderfully. So make a big crock-pot full and set some aside to eat another day. The one thing you need to do when freezing this soup is to freeze the soup WITHOUT the pasta stirred in. Freeze the cooked pasta separately and add the pasta when you reheat the soup. If you freeze the pasta in the soup, it will be mushy when you reheat it.
For a delicious bread to serve with your soup, try one of these recipes:
Whole Wheat Bread, or Rolls:
Crescent Dinner Rolls:
Hearty Minestrone Soup
2 Tbs olive oil
1-2 lb ground beef (use 2 lb for a thick soup)
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups beef broth
1 can white beans, drained
1 small can (6oz) tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs Italian seasoning
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Kitchen Bouquet or beef bouillon base
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups finely shredded cabbage
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 cup small pasta shapes
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish
In a large pot, brown ground beef in olive oil; drain excess fat. Add onion and garlic to the pot and cook until tender. Add broth, beans, tomato paste, bay leaf, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, carrots, celery, and cabbage. Bring to a boil; simmer 30 minutes. Add zucchini and cook 10 minutes. Add pasta and cook about 10 minutes, just until pasta is tender. Add additional water if soup is too thick. Remove bay leaf. Taste and add additional salt, if needed. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
To cook in crock pot: Brown ground beef, onions, and garlic as above. Place in crock pot. Add remaining ingredients (except for Parmesan) and cook on low for about 8 hours. Turn to high heat, add pasta, and cook until pasta is tender, about 30 minutes.
To freeze soup: Prepare as above, but do not add pasta. Place in freezer containers and freeze. Cook pasta separately in water. Drain, cool, and freeze pasta separately. Add cooked pasta to soup after thawing and reheating.
The transition from summer to fall is my very favorite time of the year. I love the cool mornings and sunny (but not humid) days. It is the perfect time for making my favorite comfort food: Ratatouille. Like all good comfort foods, it is warm and filling and permeates your house with delicious smells as it cooks low and slow on the stove. And during this change of seasons, I love that I can still get great fresh garden vegetables and herbs to use in this recipe.
Ratatouille is not always the most visually appealing dish, but is bursting with flavor. It is full of hearty vegetables: eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, red peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and lots of fresh herbs Then cooked down on the stove until the flavors blend and meld into the most delicious vegetable stew. Eating healthy has never tasted better!
This is Little A’s very favorite side dish. His face just lights up when he smells it as he comes into the house. All of the kids love it except for Little J (but she hardly counts as she turns her nose up to EVERY vegetable in this dish).
Ratatouille makes a perfect side dish to grilled or roasted meats. I love to serve it this time of year, when we still like to grill chicken, pork, or other things outside. Grilled meat is wonderful, but also begs for something juicy to eat with it. Ratatouille fits that bill perfectly. It is also great later in the winter with a roasted pork tenderloin, roast chicken, or beef roast.
This recipe makes a good-sized pot of ratatouille. You could always scale it back if you don’t want to make that much, but I love to have leftovers of this dish. It makes a perfect lunch all on its own the next day. Or as a sauce for pasta for an easy meal later in the week.
I never measure things when I make this recipe. It is very flexible based on your personal tastes. Below is a good approximation of the amounts that I use.
½ cup olive oil
1 large eggplant, skin on, diced
2 onions, chopped
1 red/orange/yellow pepper, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 zucchini and/or yellow squash, sliced and quartered
1 tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
3 cups chopped tomatoes
½ tsp Tabasco sauce (adjust to taste)
3 Tbs chopped fresh basil*
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley*
1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme*
1 Tbs chopped fresh oregano*
Heat olive oil in a large saucepot. Add eggplant to the hot oil and cook until eggplant begins to soften. Add onions, red pepper and garlic and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add zucchini, salt, pepper, and dried herbs; cook for 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Add chopped tomatoes and Tabasco sauce and cook over medium-low heat, uncovered, until mixture is cooked down and thickened (30-40 minutes). Stir in fresh herbs during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Taste and add additional salt, if necessary.
*Or substitute an additional 2-3 tsp dried Italian seasoning for the fresh herbs.
I love stuffed vegetables—squash, peppers, tomatoes—but my kids usually turn up their noses at such things. This recipe is easily adaptable for all of our tastes, pasta shells for the kids and vegetable shells for those of us who actually enjoy food with a little color.
One of my peppers was wobbly, so I cut a thin slice out of the bottom (being careful not to create a hole in the bottom of the pepper) to help keep the pepper level in the baking dish.
This filling is a standard ricotta manicotti filling, thick and cheesy, but I also love it mixed with spinach or other sautéed vegetables.
Stuff your peppers or pasta shells with the cheese mixture and place in a baking dish.
Top with sauce– a jarred marinara sauce or homemade spaghetti sauce works great—and bake, covered, for about 45 minutes at 350°F.
After it is cooked through, I like to top it with a little extra cheese and pop it back in the oven for about 5 minutes.
Serve with a tossed salad and crusty garlic bread!
Cheese Stuffed Peppers or Pasta Shells (or Manicotti)
3 whole red or green peppers OR
——½ box jumbo shells or manicotti noodles, cooked
1 lb ricotta cheese
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan
1 tsp dried parsley
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 jar marinara sauce (or about 2-3 cups homemade sauce)
Additional grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F
If using peppers, cut peppers in half and remove seeds.
Combine cheeses, eggs, and seasonings. Stuff peppers (or cooked pasta shells/manicotti noodles) with cheese mixture. Place a small amount of sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Place stuffed peppers/shells/manicotti in pan. Pour remaining sauce over the top of the filled peppers or shells.
Bake, covered, at 350°F for 45 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese, if desired, and bake 5-10 minutes longer.
ALTERNATE PREPARATION: Add well-drained chopped spinach and/or other sautéed vegetables (mushrooms, onions, zucchini/squash, eggplant) to cheese mixture; stuff and bake as directed.
Okay, technically this is linguini. But if you close your eyes, it all tastes the same anyway.
This is one of Big J’s favorites. It ranks in his top 5 meals (maybe even higher), and is the only non-Asian based meal on the list. It is easy enough to put together that when I’m looking to score some “Good Mom Points”, I will even make it for him for lunch. He definitely counts this as one of the homeschool perks: hot home-cooked lunches instead of soggy PB&J.
I didn’t get any prep pictures of the the Alfredo Sauce, but it is basically a wonderfully rich blend of chicken broth, cream, cream cheese and Parmesan cheese. There is no need for added thickeners (flour, cornstarch, etc). The cheeses make it plenty thick all on their own! It can easily be put together while your pasta is cooking.
You can serve it on its own, but I usually have several “toppings” on hand as well: chopped grilled chicken, cooked & crumbled bacon, steamed or roasted broccoli, barely-cooked baby peas (these are my favorite!).
This is an easy to work with dough (very similar to the Cinnamon Twist dough, just without the egg and sugar).
Divide dough in half and roll out into rectangles. Use a sharp knife to cut dough into strips (a pizza cutter works great).
Melt butter in a jellyroll pan (here I have half of a batch of dough in a 9×13” pan). Place strips in pan, and turn each strip over to coat both sides with butter. Cover pan and let rise 30-60 minutes.
Sprinkle with garlic powder and cheese and bake for 10-12 mins.
Serve with your favorite pasta or soup dish.
¼ cup butter
1 clove garlic, minced
4 oz cream cheese, cut into cubes
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup chicken broth
1-2 Tbs white wine, optional
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
¾ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Fettuccine (or other pasta)
Grilled chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
Bacon, cooked and crumbled
Roasted or steamed broccoli
Baby peas, cooked until just tender
In a saucepan over low heat, melt butter slowly. Add garlic and cream cheese and stir until melted. Add cream, chicken broth, white wine and pepper. Stir in Parmesan. Stir with a whisk as it heats to get a smooth sauce. Cook until sauce is smooth and heated through.
Prepare fettuccine as directed on package. Serve fettuccine with alfredo sauce and desired toppings.
1 ½ cups warm water
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs yeast
1 tsp salt
3 ½ – 4 cups flour
½ cup melted butter
Parmesan cheese, optional
Mix water, sugar, yeast, salt, and flour. Add more flour, if needed, to make a soft dough. Knead.
Melt butter in a jellyroll pan. Set aside.
Divide dough in half. Roll dough into 2 rectangles. Cut into 1-inch wide strips. Place dough strips ½ inch apart in pan, turning over to coat both sides with butter. Let rise 30-60 minutes (until doubled). Sprinkle with garlic powder and Parmesan, if desired. Bake at 400°F for 10-12 minutes.
Makes about 18 breadsticks.