Monday, May 9, 2011

Meatless Monday: Smoky Minestrone with Cheese Tortellini and Parsley Pesto

I love soup. I've often spoken on this blog of my love for Deborah Madison, soup genius, but I will take good soup wherever I can find it. This particular soup I found on Food 52. Food 52 is the new-ish food site created by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. When I first explored it, soon after it was created, I was a bit overwhelmed. There were contests to enter, recipes to test, prizes to be won. Not that I am opposed to any of those things--it just seemed a bit more involved than I was prepared for. Now, a year and more later, Food 52 is still all of those things--but it's also a source of really great recipes. All of those recipes that were entered in contests and tested by numerous readers and awarded prizes--they're all there. My explorations have been somewhat limited so far (there are a lot of recipes), but there's no question that this recipe, which was an Editor's Pick, is a winner. I read the recipe and it looked good, but I got even more intrigued as I started reading through the comments and saw one person after another saying, "This is the best soup I've ever had." Of course I had to give it a go.

The original recipe, submitted by WinnieAb, called for bacon to create the smoky flavor. I eliminated the bacon and added a teaspoon of smoked paprika to similar smoky (though not bacon-y) effect. I also used vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. What is lovely about this soup is that it is mostly vegetables . . .

and more vegetables . . .

and yet the soup doesn't taste abstemious in the least, thanks to the cheese tortellini and the lovely dollop of parsley pesto on top.

A few notes: Don't skip the parsley pesto! It adds a nice jolt of flavor to the soup. While I like the idea of hand-chopping pesto in theory, I like the ease of my mini-chopper more. I started with the parsley, then added the garlic, oil, pine nuts and finally cheese. It took just a few minutes and tasted delicious.

This is a generous recipe and makes a good 6-8 bowls. If you think you're not going to eat it all and would like to freeze some of it, then cook the tortellini separately and add as needed. Once the tortellini are in the soup, they continue to suck up broth, so your leftovers will be more stew-like than soup-like. They are still delicious--just perhaps not as photogenic.

I've now made this soup twice since I discovered the recipe just a month or so ago. And all of those comments about how good it is were totally spot on. I'm always hesitant to name something "the best soup ever," but even without that superlative, this is really delicious soup and absolutely worth having in your dinner rotation, whether it's a Meatless Monday or not.

Smoky Minestrone with Cheese Tortellini and Parsley Pesto

Adapted from WinnieAb's recipe on Food 52

Serves 6-8


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 leek, trimmed and sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 quart of vegetable stock, homemade or not
  • 1 15 oz. can of cooked chickpeas, preferably organic
  • 1 28 oz. can of peeled San Marzano tomatoes, with juice
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 cup kale or Swiss chard, chopped fine
  • 1 9-ounce package of high quality, all-natural cheese tortellini
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish-- optional but recommended
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the chopped onion, garlic and leek. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until softened. Add the smoked paprika and cook another few minutes.
  3. Add the chopped carrot, celery, zucchini, potato and stir around for a minute or two.
  4. Add the stock, the chickpeas, and then the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you go. (You can also puree them, depending on your feelings about tomato pieces in your soup.) Add a few generous pinches of salt (be judicious if your stock is salted already). Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender.
  5. Add the kale or chard and the tortellini, and continue to cook over a simmer until both are tender and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve garnished with a spoonful of the pesto, a few drops of aged balsamic (if desired), and a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese.

Parsley or Basil Pesto:

  • 1 cup loosely packed basil or parsley
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive
  1. Chop, chop, and chop the basil or parsley some more by hand until it's very fine...when you do this, you'll reduce it down to about 1/4 cup. You can also do this step in a mini chopper.
  2. As you chop the parsley/basil, start to incorporate the other ingredients and chop them fine, too, until you have a lovely, finely chopped pesto.
  3. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the olive oil. Use as a garnish for the minestrone.
  4. Note: I did this whole thing in the mini-chopper, and it came out nicely. So, whatever is easier for you.


kerry dexter said...

this sounds really good -- although, as I usually do, I can see myself changing ingredients or adjusting quantiies here and there.

Robin Aronson said...

I'm going to make this soup. And can I recommend the red lentil, spinach and lemon soup it P. Berley's Fresh Food Fast (a terrific cookbook even if I'm a little biased b/c Melissa Clark wrote it with him....). It's great, it's fast, and my favorite soup share! (besides a few of the soups in D. Madison's Vegetarian Soups, which I think you must know well....)

Sue Dickman said...

You should both definitely make this soup! Really, it's good, and very adaptable.

Kerry, I do the same thing, changing things in the recipe even as I'm reading it. And minestrones are very forgiving, in any case.

And Robyn, I recently made the red lentil/lemon soup from Melissa's own cookbook; is it related to the red lentil spinach one, do you think? And yes, I love that Madison soup cookbook, though I also use Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone pretty often too.

babyhellfire said...

That looks soo yummy! I must try it! Thanks for sharing :)

Robin Aronson said...

Ahhh, the Good Appetite red lentil soup is delicious and related, because lemony, but not the same.

Here's the recipe from Fresh Food Fast -- the instructions are my version, obviously. (and here's a link to the book it's from to make the recipe quoting kosher --

1 1/2 cups red or brown lentils (i've only used red)
1 cup canned chopped tomatoes and their juice
3 Tblsp EV Olive oil
8 cloves garlic peeled
2 tsp coarse salt
4 slices peeled fresh ginger the size of a quarter
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 bag baby washed spinach
2 Tbsp lemon juice
fresh pepper

The way I make it is I put everything but the spinach and lemon juice in a pot with 5 cups of water cover it, bring it to a boil and let it cook for about 20 -30 min. you can also wrap ginger rosemary and bay leaf in a cheese cloth and then you don't have to fish that stuff out.

when lentils are cooked, add spinach and mix until wilted, stir in lemon juice and crush the garlic cloves against the side of the pan (and take out garlic and rosemary and by if it's not in cheesecloth)
this can also be made in a pressure cooker, but i'm scared of pressure cookers

Sue Dickman said...

Thanks, Robin! It sounds great, and I will totally try it. I used to be scared of pressure cookers as well, but I just got one, and I'm getting over my fear. Soaked chickpeas cooked in 10 minutes! Unsoaked pinto beans cooked in a half hour! That is enough to convince me, I think. (Also, the new ones are designed not to blow your kitchen up, so that also helps.)

Sue Dickman said...

Robin, my response to you got eaten by blogger yesterday, so I'm reposting!

First, thanks for the recipe--I will definitely try it.

And I used to be scared of pressure cookers as well, but I just got one a few months ago, and I'm getting over it. Soaked chickpeas cooked in 10 minutes, unsoaked pintos in 30. It's definitely making a case for itself! Plus, the new ones are designed not to blow up your kitchen, which is comforting.

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