The recipe can be adapted for winter or summer by changing the vegetables as the seasons change. Try adding zucchini slices during the summer or slip some eggplant in — the kids will never know! Rule of thumb is to add softer vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, and summer squash towards the end of cooking and add harder ones such as green beans, potatoes, and parsnips at the beginning of cooking.
Enhance your store-bought broth
A good soup starts with a good stock or broth. Here’s a great way to enhance a pre-made broth; start with a purchased stock that does not have hydrogenated oils, MSG, food coloring, sugar, or extra salt.
Use 2 quarts of stock and add 2 stalks of celery, 1 medium carrot, 1 onion, cut in half, a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, and a few peppercorns. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer for 20 minutes; drain and discard the vegetables.
Soup and sandwich for the whole family
Now that you have a good base, let’s make soup! You can make the base up to 3 days in advance and refrigerate until ready to use; or freeze for up to 3 months.
Sandwiches can be dressed up by cooking in a panini grill. Here’s a ham and cheese sandwich that is elegant enough for Mom and Dad, but simple enough for the kids. Black Forest ham has more flavor than the regular ‘boiled’ ham and is readily available. Fontina cheese is an Italian cow’s milk cheese that has a mild, slightly nutty flavor and melts well. The sandwich can be constructed in advance, wrapped well in plastic wrap, and refrigerated until ready to grill.
Minestrone with Black Forest Ham and Fontina Panini Sandwich
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- sea or kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 large can roma tomatoes, crushed
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- ½ pound green beans, cut into ½” pieces
- 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup small shaped pasta, cooked and cooled
- 1 cup Swiss chard or spinach, cut into 1″ pieces
- 1 small lemon, juiced
- 2 cups cocktail meatballs, cooked, defrosted if frozen, optional
- ½ bunch basil leaves, packed
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- salt and pepper to taste
- 8 slices of thick French or Italian bread
- sun-dried tomato pesto or Dijon mustard
- 4 slices Black Forest ham
- 1 cup Fontina cheese, grated, divided
- If your slow cooker has an insert, place it over medium heat with oil; otherwise use a heavy fry pan. Add onions, carrots and celery, season with a little salt and pepper and sauté until translucent.
- Return the insert into the slow cooker and add tomatoes, stock, and green beans. Cook on low heat for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.
- About 15 minutes before serving, add kidney and cannellini beans, pasta, Swiss chard or spinach and meatballs, if using. Serve with a swirl of pesto and lemon juice to taste.
- In a blender or the bowl of a food processor, add garlic and pine nuts. Pulse until you have fairly small pieces.
- Add basil and pulse until it becomes a paste. Add cheese and pulse to blend; with motor running, add oil until you have a smooth paste.
- Season with salt and pepper, set aside.
- Heat a panini grill while you prepare the sandwich. Or if the sandwich is pre-made, remove from refrigerator and let come to room temperature.
- Brush pesto or mustard on one side of all 8 slices of bread. Layer with ham and cheese, cover with the other side of prepared bread. Brush the outside of the bread very lightly with oil or butter and place that side down on the hot panini press. Brush the slice of bread facing up with a little butter or oil and close the panini lid. Cook until the cheese is melted and the bread has toasted to a light brown.