I have been craving minestrone soup lately. As if the last week’s cold and snowy weather wasn’t enough inspiration to get in the kitchen and make some, a fortuitous find at my favorite grocery store closed the deal. As I was perusing the discount produce rack, I came upon some of the cutest little zucchini squash I have ever seen. They were in beautiful condition, and the huge bag (it had to be two pounds at least) was just $1.29. This must be fate. I knew then that there was a steaming pot of minestrone in my near future.
I also knew, however, that a bowl full of tomatoes, beans, greens, and zucchini was not going to thrill anyone except for me. I needed something great to accompany the soup to pacify the minds and fill the bellies of the rest of the family. Many thanks to fellow foodie and dietitian, Amber, for inspiring me! Grilled cheese croutons on top of soup? What a fab and brilliant idea!
As expected, the kids picked through this AWESOMELY DELICIOUS soup for the things they liked, but all loved dipping their grilled cheese chunks in it. Success! The soup truly was fantastic. No joke, I think I ate five bowls of it over the weekend. I simply could not get enough of its rich flavor and abundance of vegetables. But don’t take my word for it. I made two batches over the weekend and it was a hit with every adult, from my husband to my mom to my pal, Dee.
While it did require a good amount of chopping, it was easy to make and could easily translate into a crockpot dish as well. The bacon, which I substituted for pancetta, gave it a bit of flavor without adding much in the way of fat, and pureeing some of the cannelini beans made for a nice, thick broth. As with many soups, this one tastes even better the second day. Give it a try!
Hearty Minestrone with Grilled Cheese Croutons
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis on The Food Network
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 bacon strips, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups spinach, chopped
1 baking potato, peeled and cubed
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium beef broth
1 cup zucchini, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Grilled Cheese Croutons:
6 slices bread
3 ounces of sliced cheddar, swiss, or other cheese of your choice
~ 6 teaspoons of soft margarine or butter
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, bacon, and garlic. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the spinach and potato and saute for 2 minutes more.
Add the tomatoes and thyme, and simmer spinach is wilted and the tomatoes break down, about 10 minutes. While this mixture is simmering, blend half the beans with about 1/4 cup of the broth in a processor until almost smooth. Add the pureed bean mixture, remaining broth, and zucchini to the vegetable mixture. Simmer until the potato pieces are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
During the final simmering, prepare the grilled cheese croutons. Toast 6 slices of bread lightly (this makes them crisper and less likely to get soggy on top of the soup). Then, butter one side of each slice lightly. Place 3 of the slices, buttered side down, on a nonstick frying pan over medium-low heat. Add grated cheddar or other cheese of your choice, and top with second slice, with the buttered side facing up. Grill about two minutes per side, until golden brown. Remove to cutting board, trim the crusts, and cut each sandwich into small squares.
Serve soup in bowls topped with 4-5 grilled cheese croutons.