It is my sincere hope that this will be the last winter meal I’ll be posting for a while. I know it’s only early March and we still have another two and a half months of potential snowfall around here, but I’m beginning to see some subtle signs of spring approaching. Even though there’d been a light snow falling for the better part of the past few days, only a mere dusting has stuck to the ground. The next week promises daytime temperatures in the 40’s, rather than the 20’s and 30’s of the past few months. And I’ve been craving springtime food: greens, tender young veggies, and just lighter fare overall. I’ve started adding salads back into my diet and I’ve even been blending up smoothies for breakfast once in a while, despite the fact that it’s still below freezing when I wake up most mornings. (This mint chocolate chip smoothie courtesy of Vegan Sparkles is one of my favorites at the moment.)
But enough of a winter chill remains that most of my meals are still of the hot and hearty variety. Plus, the markets are still full of winter produce, so I may as well make good use of it while I wait for the asparagus and garlic scapes to appear. I’m a bit of a soup junkie any time of the year, but I find my addiction is particularly strong during the colder months. I often opt for heavier, creamier soups in the heart of the winter, but with spring on its way I’ve been in the mood for something a little lighter. Minestrone has always been a favorite of mine and it’s just perfect to bridge the gap between the heavy, warming foods of winter and the bright and lively tastes of spring. Not to mention that it’s a particularly easy soup to adapt based on whatever ingredients are readily available. Just a flavorful broth full of veggies, beans, and pasta. Simple. Healthy. Tasty. A perfect one pot meal. For my winter version I throw in kale and sweet potatoes instead of the more traditional carrots and zucchini, and I subbed in some chickpeas rather than the usual cannellini beans. The result is a unique twist on an old classic. A meal that will keep the winter chill at bay while getting you ready for the warmth and sunshine that are just around the corner.
I considered using barley instead of the pasta to make an even healthier soup, but the pasta won out in the end. I do think it would be a delicious substitution, though. Finish it off with a sprinkle of parmesan or pecorino if you like, or even better throw in a parmesan rind while the soup is simmering and it will infuse the whole soup with subtle cheesy goodness!
2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, sliced into 1/2 inch wide pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet potato, cubed
5-6 c vegetable stock (no or low sodium)
28 oz can or box chopped tomatoes (no or low sodium)
6 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2-3 tsp salt
1 c cooked chickpeas
3-4 leaves kale, deribbed and chopped
2 c cooked small pasta* (I used ditalini)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice (optional)
fresh ground pepper
In a large saucepan, stockpot, or dutch oven heat the olive oil, onion, and celery over medium heat. Saute until vegetables just begin to soften. Add the sweet potatoes and garlic and saute for another minute or so.
Add the stock, chopped tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, and 1 tsp of the salt. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender.
Add the chickpeas, kale, and pasta and stir until the kale is wilted. Remove from heat, add the optional lemon juice, and add any additional salt and pepper to taste. If your stock and/or tomatoes were salted, you may not need any additional salt. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
*Use about 1 c dried pasta to yield 2 c cooked pasta.