Fresh basil and chives aren't always on hand this time of year, but if you're lucky enough to have them, coarsely chop a handful and toss them in at the end of cooking. They'll lend a garden fresh flavor that's downright irresistible in the dead of winter. Of course, if you've got fresh basil you can also make your own pesto. Yes, the homemade is better than store-bought, but I find the commercial product a convenient and acceptable alternative.
For a slightly meatier soup, stir in about 1/2 cup diced ham or roasted chicken meat when you add the tomatoes and their juices.
Make Ahead: Refrigerate the cooled soup in an airtight container for 3 or 4 days. Add broth or water as needed when you reheat the soup.
Servings: 4 - 6 generous
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup peeled and chopped carrot, celery or onion (or a combination)
- 4 to 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth (may substitute vegetable broth)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme or dried marjoram
- 1/2 cup 1 1/2-inch-long pieces broken-up dried vermicelli or other similar thin pasta
- Half a 6-ounce bag fresh, ready-to-use baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1 14- to 15-ounce can white cannellini beans or great northern beans, rinsed and well drained
- 1/4 cup store-bought basil pesto, or more to taste
- 1 15-ounce can diced garlic- and basil-seasoned tomatoes or regular canned diced tomatoes, including their juices
- Generous handful basil leaves or chives, coarsely chopped (optional)
- Water, as needed
- Freshly ground black pepper
Combine the oil and chopped vegetables in a 5- to 6-quart pot over medium heat; stir to coat. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then add 4 cups of the broth and the dried thyme or marjoram.
Increase the heat to high and bring to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until barely al dente.
Add the spinach, beans, pesto, tomatoes and their juices; mix well, then reduce the heat to medium (a gentle boil). Cook for 5 minutes to blend the flavors. If desired, add the basil or chives; cook for 1 minute, stirring. Use the remaining cup of broth or water to thin the soup to the desired consistency. Season with salt, pepper and additional basil pesto to taste.
Divide among individual bowls; serve hot.
From cookbook author Nancy Baggett.
Tested by Nancy Baggett.
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