The problem with spur-of-the-moment soup is a lack of planning unless you can get creative out of the pantry.
But we can do that.
Today was Pasta e Fagioli soup. You know, like Olive Garden, but not really.
I still had some beautiful Swiss chard from the farmers market the week before. If you just toss this in the refrigerator it’s going to go limp and start to shrivel in a couple of days.
Some people swear by wrapping produce in damp paper towels or foil and now you can even buy special crisping containers which I have not tried yet. If you have, please let me know how they work — I’d love to know.
Instead, I put produce with stems or stalks in a jar with a couple inches of water where it will easily keep on the windowsill or counter for at least a week or two (maybe longer) and still look and taste like the day you bought it.
Make sure you change the water every day or two. You know, like fresh flowers.
This also works for green onions, asparagus, and celery too. In fact, you can even get new growth in this pseudo-hydroponic setup. I regrow my green onions, for example, three or four times with nothing more than some water. (Here’s a picture of my kitchen windowsill as I write this.)
Let’s see, what else do I have?
Some Italian sausage links that I was going to use for sandwiches at an event that didn’t happen after all.
I’ll need a basic mirepoix: two part onions, one part carrots, one part celery. Check. I also have garlic (pretty much always, actually).
A can of white beans, a can of diced tomatoes, chicken stock (no homemade in the freezer right now, darn, I need to fix that), and some pasta. I would prefer some ditalini but, oddly, I can’t find a good source of organic yet unless I want to order it in bulk.
Elbow macaroni would be good too but… nope. I found some gemelli and that’ll work. (I’ve even broken fettucine or spaghetti into smaller pieces in the past. Whatever works.)
So it’s sounding like Pasta e Fagioli soup. That is, pasta, vegetables, and beans. Can you leave out the meat and use vegetable stock? You bet. Only have kidney beans? No worries. No tomatoes? It’s still good.
I have some basic rules I try to follow when I’m cooking. Besides just make as few dirty dishes as you can get away with and buy local and organic two of the big ones are: use what you have on hand and try to minimize waste.
Let’s do this.
First, I’ll remove the casings and cook and crumble the sausage.
Then, in the same pot, we’re only using the one pot, I’ll sweat the chopped vegetables. If your sausage was very lean, as mine was, add a glug of olive oil. For soup like this I chop the vegetables into pieces roughly the same bite-size. Add the garlic once the onions start to get tender and let it cook for a couple of minutes more, stirring the pot to make sure nothing burns.
Add the stock (I had 4 cups) and again as much water (4 cups for a total of 8 cups liquid). Tomatoes into the pot as well.
Some seasoning next. I used dried oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper. (I tasted my chicken stock beforehand and it was not salty so, as always, taste your food and adjust your salt as needed.) I also decided a rind from the Parmesan cheese would add depth to it. (Make sure you discard the rind when the soup is done.) (Can you measure Parmesan rind by the hand? Hmm….)
I washed the chard, removed the stems, and tore it into pieces. Since I was using canned beans, I rinsed them well through a sieve to get rid of the extra starch.
Bring the soup to a boil and let it cook for a bit. Then add the pasta, beans, and chard and let this cook until the pasta is almost tender, still a bit al dente, just shy of fifteen minutes in this case.
When you’re ready to serve it, you can grate a bit of parmesan or romano cheese on top for garnish if you wish.
Plus a hunk of good crusty bread always goes well.
Super Bonus Tip
When I make soup, I make soup. Then, once it cools, I freeze half of it. It thaws and reheats quick and easy for days when you don’t really want to cook or have anything on hand or need a care package for a sick or forlorn friend. (You might have to add a bit of water and re-season it a little, but that’s easy enough.)
A while back, I bought a set of these 32 oz containers for less than a dollar each. They’re sturdy, stack well in the cupboard, and I can give them away without worrying about getting one back. They freeze great and they’re dishwasher safe.
They are my go-to leftover containers for so many things!
Pasta e Fagioli
Pasta e Fagioli soup is a recipe you can make foraging and scrounging the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer on those rainy days where you need to make your own sunshine and comfort.
- 1 pound Italian sausage (optional)
- 1 pound pasta, such as ditalini, elbow macaroni, or similar
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 celery ribs, diced
- 1 onion, medium, diced
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 4 cups water
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 15 ounces diced tomatoes dice fresh if you have them
- 15 ounces white beans such as cannellini or great northern
- 1 bunch swiss chard
- 1 teaspoon oregano, dried
- 1 teaspoon thyme, dried
- 1 teaspoon basil, dried
- 1 teaspoon marjoram, dried
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 Parmesan rind (optional)
Remove the casings, brown over medium-high heat in a soup pot, crumbling the sausage.
Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook until slightly tender. About 5-7 minutes.
Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes, stirring to prevent burning.
Add stock, water, tomatoes, and seasonings. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
Let simmer about 30 minutes.
Add pasta, beans, and chard. Simmer until the pasta is just tender, about 10-15 minutes. Check the directions on your pasta.
Garnish with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese if desired.