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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Confessions of a Soup Hoarder: Slow Cooker Pasta e Fagioli

Last weekend I started to get "the look" from Mr. Soup. Okay, fine, by the time I finished hoarding freezing the Sopa de Carnitas, I had 29 one-cup containers of soup in my freezer stash. And okay, fine, I officially ran out of my preferred soup containers and went out and bought 12 more. And okay, fine, I was already sketching out/pinning/researching the next soup I wanted to make. I still don't think there's any reason for somone to come upstairs and stand in the living room with fists on hips and demand, "Do you KNOW how much soup there is in the freezer?"


(And the answer was, yes, I knew exactly how much soup there was in the freezer.)

I can't help it this time of year. It's soup season: I love to think about it, I love to make it, I love to eat it, and okay, fine, I love to have a freezer full of it. Deal, Mr. Soup.

The good news for everyone involved is that this week I got a sudden call back to school for a 7th Grade Language Arts leave replacement. I now have an excuse to go ahead and indulge myself with another soup, because now that I'm working again, I'm whittling that stash down by one every day. (There are only 26 in the freezer now! Eek!) It is just so ridicuously handy to grab a cup of frozen soup on my way out the door each morning. Ta-da! Lunch!

Today's soup is my version of a Slow Cooker Italian Pasta and Bean Soup - Pasta e Fagioli (pronounced fah-zhool). There are a lot of recipes for this on the internet, most of which seem to be inspired by Olive Garden. I've only eaten at Olive Garden once in my life, and I hated every bite of the shrimp scampi linguine I chose, so I can't attest to their soups. I can, however, attest to the version I made. It's probably not authentic, especially as I snuck kale in there. (And if you're wondering, the answer to that one is "No, there isn't anything kale doesn't make better.") It's a hearty, flavorful bowl full of yum that makes your house smell terrific. Soup hoarders, unite!

Slow Cooker Pasta e Fagioli (Italian Pasta and Bean Soup)
Serves 6-8

1 lb. ground beef
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press
2 t. dried Italian Seasoning
1 t. red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
2 stalks celery, diced
3 medium carrots, diced
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can white kidney beans (cannellini), rinsed and drained
3 c. marinara sauce (I'm a big fan of Paul Newman's - but make your own if you are so inclined)
1 2-inch chunk of parmesan rind (optional)
4 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. ditalini pasta (or other small pasta)
1/2 head curly kale, washed, stems removed, and chopped (about 3 cups)

In a large sautee pan, brown ground beef over medium-high heat. Once browned, drain excess fat from pan. Turn heat down to medium and add the onion. Sautee until onion starts to soften, around 5 minutes. Add garlic, Italian Seasoning, red pepper flakes and bay leaves and continue to stir and sautee around 1 minute more, until everything is well combined and you can smell the garlic and spices.

Add the ground beef mixture to your slow cooker. Stir in the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the pasta and kale. Turn slow cooker on to low and cook for 7 hours. Add pasta and kale and cook for an additional 30 minutes, or until pasta is tender. Remove bay leaves and parmesan rind before serving.

**The pasta will absorb quite a bit of liquid, so make sure you use a small shape, or you'll end up with a squishy stew instead of a soup. Add a small amount of additional liquid when re-heating, if necessary, to re-brothify. Yes, that is too a word.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Deliberate Leftovers: Slow-Cooker Ham and Great Northern Bean Soup

It's already established I'm soup-obsessed. Clearly. I didn't make any soup over the summer, but now that the leaves are turning, it seems like it's all I think about. I'm pinning soups like mad, I'm making lists of different soup ideas I'd like to try, and I've been covertly buying used soup cookbooks from Amazon on the cheap. (The covert part of that plan hasn't worked out so well since Mr. Soup picks up the mail.)

But I've hit on a new soup strategy that has me more excited about soup than any other. Deliberate leftovers.

Take for example, today's soup. A Slow-Cooker Ham and Great Northern Bean Soup. I originally saw a picture for this here on Plain Chicken. You might remember Plain Chicken. She's the one that inflicted introduced us to Crack Bread. I won't even 'fess up to how many times I've found an excuse to make that since last Super Bowl. Woe.

But back to the soup. The picture was amazing. I wanted that. Bad. It looked like one of those things where the sum was much much greater than the parts. Just a few ingredients to simple peasant-like deliciousness. All I needed was a ham bone. Pay attention now, this is where the genius comes in! I bought a ham.

You're not impressed, I can tell. "Genius?" you're thinking, "Hardly." But you see, my family LOVES ham. All right, fine, everybody loves ham. But my family ONLY loves ham the first night hot right out of the oven. None of the crazy people that live here will lovingly take it out of the fridge on subsequent days and slice off sliver after sliver and eat it straight off the knife. (Okay, maybe one person that lives here will do that.) So when I make a ham, I get an excellent family dinner and then I have all the rest of the ham to myself. Ham joy. And yes, genius.

Slow-Cooker Ham and Great Northern Bean Soup
Adapted from Plain Chicken
Serves 6-8

1 lb. dried Great Northern Beans
1 meaty leftover ham bone
1 large onion, diced
1 t. crushed red pepper flakes
6 cups water

Sort through the beans to check for any small pebbles. Side note: I have always done this and have never once found a darn thing. Until now. Sure enough, there was an itty bitty rock in the bag.

Cover the beans with 2 inches of water and soak for a minimum of 4 hours. Drain and rinse well. (The original recipe doesn't call for the beans to be soaked at all, and I wasn't in the mood to soak overnight. Still, I worried they wouldn't truly get soft without some sort of soak. I opted to soak them for about 4 hours in the morning before I started the slow cooker up.)

Add beans, onions, and red pepper flakes to slow cooker and stir together. Nestle the ham bone into the mixture and add the water. Cook on low for 8 hours. Remove ham, let cool slightly, and then shred the meat and add it back into the pot.

That's it! 5 simple ingredients that cook all day without tending. It doesn't get much easier than that.