February's Ugly Food Recipe: Italian Vegetable Soup

Apparently, 2015 was the year of "bowl food." Seems like a bit of a strange thing, to dedicate a year around eating food out of a specific vessel, but I was all about it. Mostly, because I've always been all about it. It seems like the foods that I crave most often, and therefore cook most often, are all at their best when served in bowls: curry, pasta, oatmeal, stir fry, salads, and, of course, soup.

In my kitchen, soup is a necessity, and there's almost always a big pot of it in my fridge. I love that I can make a big batch and have lunch (and often dinner!) for the whole week. I love that the flavors mellow and deepen as the week goes on. But most of all, I love that making soup lets me use up all kinds of leftover ingredients that would otherwise get forgotten.

This recipe has become a go to in my life, mostly because I almost always have the core ingredients on hand, and I can add or subtract ingredients, based on what I'm trying to use up. Since I (mostly) cook for just myself, it seems like I always have a half-container of salad greens, a few lemons, several containers of fresh herbs, and some wilty celery that I'm trying to get rid of, and this is the perfect way to do it. When I feel like going all out, or when the Red River Market is in season, I'll make a grocery run for fennel and artichoke hearts, but it tastes just as good without them. One thing that you can't go without: topping your piping-hot bowl of soup with fresh herbs and grated Parmesan at the end. Trust me.

Italian Vegetable Soup

  • 2 - 3 handfuls sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 - 3 Tbsp butter, ghee, or olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 - 4 ribs celery, chopped (if your celery has leaves, use those too!)
  • 4 - 5 medium carrots, chopped
  • 3 - 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 - 3 diced potatoes (sweet potatoes add a nice subtle sweetness, but use whatever you have on hand)
  • 3 cups diced fresh tomatoes (or one 15-ounce can diced tomatoes)
  • 3 cups cooked white beans (or two 15-ounce cans, drained)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (bonus points if you make your own!)
  • 5 - 6 cups loosely packed, chopped greens (baby kale and arugula work well, but again, use whatever you have on hand)
  • Handful of fresh chopped Italian herbs (parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme, fennel) or 1 - 2 Tbsp. dried herbs
  • juice of half a lemon, plus more to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • grated Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast, if you're dairy free or vegan)
  • OPTIONAL: 1 cup artichoke hearts, 1 finely chopped fennel bulb

In a small bowl, cover the sun-dried tomatoes with boiling water. Set aside.

In a large stock pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions, carrots, celery, a pinch of salt, and a few turns of fresh black pepper. Cook until soft, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, potatoes, and if using, the fennel bulb. Cook until the potatoes have lost their "crunch," about 3-5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, white beans, artichoke hearts, if using, and the stock, and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat, so that the soup is just simmering.

Remove the sundried tomatoes from the water, being sure to reserve the liquid. Chop the sundried tomatoes, and add them and their soaking liquid to the pot.

Add the greens, and the herbs. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the greens are tender. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

Garnish with chopped herbs, grated cheese, and/or lemon zest.

Enjoy!

This recipe yields a generous 10 cups soup, which is more than enough for a week of lunches for one person, or enough for a good friendly dinner party. If you're going the dinner party route, have one friend bring a good crusty bread, another bring a fresh salad, and another bring a bottle of red wine. Communal eating, FTW!