Butternut Squash Minestrone

I think every fall I adopt a favorite soup recipe and make it over and over until it’s perfect and everyone else is tired of it.  I’ve been making this soup practically weekly since it started getting cold and I’m certainly not bored yet.  It’s a crowd pleaser, what my inlaws call “friendly food” – warming and hearty.  It’s so loaded with vegetables that it’s also very healthy without sacrificing any flavor.  A pot of this soup is enough to feed me lunch all week. 

Oh and it’s worth it to note that this recipe is easily made vegetarian by using vegetable broth – just make sure it’s quality broth, and maybe add some parmesan when serving for some extra richness.  Your call.  Also, all the measurements are extremely flexible.  I like more onion and less carrot, you might like more carrot and less squash.  Whatever you have will work deliciously in this recipe.  Just start chopping before you start cooking – it makes it a lot easier with so many vegetables.

And I found a trick while cooking the pasta!  You don’t have to keep boiling it until it’s done.  Boil it long enough until it’s maybe half cooked, and then take it off the heat and cover.  Since the shapes are small, the residual heat will cook it the rest of the way.  I also usually use far less liquid than when cooking pasta normally, allowing me to skip draining and keeping from diluting the soup.  All the yummy brothy flavor ends up in the pasta, adding more flavor to your end product than just pasta cooked in water.

Butternut Squash Minestrone

adapted from my divine inspiration, Ina Garten

3 tablespoons olive oil or bacon fat if you have it

1 large onion, chopped

3 carrots, diced into coins

3 stalks celery, sliced

3 cups butternut squash, diced small (1/2 inch cube)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand

4-6 cups (approx.) chicken stock

2 bay leaves

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Salt & pepper to taste

1 can cannellini or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1 bunch chard, sliced into ribbons (can sub in any green, frozen spinach is easy and nice)

½ - ¾ cup white wine (I usually use chardonnay)

2-3 tablespoons pesto

8 oz small pasta

Warm the oil or fat over medium heat – add the onion and celery and sautee for 5-10 minutes or until slightly softened.  Add the garlic and thyme and cook for less than a minute, then add the butternut squash.  Sautee for another 5 minutes.  Add the crushed tomatoes and enough chicken stock to cover all the vegetables by at least an inch, along with the bay leaves and red pepper flakes.  Add a little salt & pepper to taste (start with 1 teaspoon of salt) and let come to a boil.  Turn down the heat and let simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender, approximately 30 minutes.  If it gets too thick, add more broth to your favorite consistency.

Meanwhile, cook the small pasta in well salted chicken broth until al dente.  Don’t bother draining the pasta – it’s best to store the pasta separately from the soup as it would soak up all the soup if stored together.  Keep it in its own container with broth – I promise it will soak that up too!

Once vegetables are tender, add the wine and pesto to taste.  Add the beans.  Stir in the greens and cover – simmer until cooked.  Serve soup with a good scoop of the hot cooked pasta stirred in to every bowl.