Let’s talk about soup, ok? Soup is the greatest. If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would have to be soup. I love how you can jam all this good stuff into one pot and a couple of hours later it you ladle it into a bowl and it tastes amazing! I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I tell you that at least two of the meals I plan every week involve a soup or stew of some sort; and when I’m feeling cold, and cozy, and a little sucky, there is nothing better than indulging in a steamy bowl of soup with a chunk of crusty bread! I have even managed to instil my love of soup onto my daughter, who has soup in at least three of her top five favorite meals of all time (and let me just add this: two of those soups contain kale! No joke!). Yup, soup is a crowd favourite around here.
I wasn’t always the soup lover I am today. I even remember the fateful day I tried pasta e fagioli soup for the first time…The year was 1993, it was Olive Garden, and I was wearing a pair of paper bag pants…Remember those? I’ve just totally aged myself, with that random reference. They’re back. I’ve seen them. I’ve literally been around long enough to see trends twice. Forget the soup: I need a stiff drink.
But back to the story. Pasta e fagioli soup was like a thing for me. I couldn’t believe soup could be thick and chunky and not be a bland, watery attempt at using up back-of-the-fridge-leftovers. Sure, it was probably made with a million processed ingredients and it probably didn’t use grass-fed beef, but man, it was a revelation! And you know what? I have never looked back after that. I spend my life now, in search of the next great comforting soup.
Pasta e fagioli literally means “pasta and beans”. Traditionally, it is served sans meat, but over the years it has been Americanized and is now usually associated with meat. But, if you are vegetarian, don’t despair! This recipe can be tailored to your needs. Opt out of the meat. Use vegetable stock instead of beef. Soup is amazingly customizable!
Another this that makes soup so great is its potential to be a complete a one-bowl meal. You’ve got your proteins and veggies all there. Add some great bone broth and you’ve got this amazing vitamin and mineral powerhouse that tastes so good, you forget you’re doing something great for your body.
If you’ve read my other posts, (see here), you’ll know that my family and I have worked pretty hard to clean up the way we eat. And because I love beans so much, dried beans have become a household staple for us. They are a huge component in my weekly meal plans, and are not only delicious but are also great at saving you some $$. Beans are really easy to prepare from dried, and taste so much better than canned! It’s worth it for the taste alone, in my opinion. But the benefits of ditching canned in favour of dried is well worth the extra bit of preparation they need. Kidney beans are no exception. Like other beans, the kidneys are a great source of fibre, protein, and iron.
Adding beans to your diet is also super cost effective. I remember reading in an old Jean Paré cookbook (I think) that with meals like chili, you can always stretch them out by adding some more beans. And that, my friend, is true! I have had the last minute drop in, and have added another two cups of beans to my chili, and no one was any the wiser. Beans are great at making you feel satiated and comforted. Beany soups and stews, especially in the winter, are great, clean, cozy options for those cold nights when you just need to feel that warm hug from a steamy bowl of goodness!
Slow Cooker Pasta e Fagioli Soup
1 Tablespoon olive oil (sunflower oil is also great)
1 pound ground beef
1 large Onion, diced
2 Carrots, diced
2 Celery stalks, diced
3 cups chopped spinach (or 1 box of frozen)
1 28oz can Diced tomatoes, undrained (or use pureed if you have tomato haters like I do!)
2 cups cooked and drained kidney beans (red, white or a mix of both)
2 cups beef stock (replace with water in a pinch)
1 cup water
1 jar Marinara sauce
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup ditali pasta, uncooked*
Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving
(*typically I cook the pasta/rice for my soups separately and then add it to individual bowls as I serve them. I find that pasta/rice tends to absorb a lot of the soup’s liquid and can become pretty mushy otherwise. However, it is entirely up to you: if you would rather, you can toss the ditalini pasta in the slow cooker about 15 minutes before you plan on serving the soup.)
Chop onions, celery, and carrots. Wash and chop spinach, if using fresh.
In a large frying pan, sauté onions and ground beef, until meat is no longer pink.
In slow cooker, combine beef stock, water, marinara sauce, tomatoes, spinach, celery, carrots, and seasonings.
Add the ground beef mixture to the slow cooker. Combine. Cook , covered, for 6-8 hours on low.
About 30 minutes before you want to serve the soup, bring a pot of water to boil. Add 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt the the pot. Toss in ditalini pasta and cook according to your brand’s instructions.
To serve: Add a few tablespoons of pasta to the soup bowl. Ladle the soup on top. Garnish with grated parmigiano reggiano.
Serve with some great crusty bread.