My first big girl dietitian job was for a food service company at a large regional hospital. All the clinical nutrition and food service staff were provided a certain stipend for meals and drinks, so as one might conclude I ate hospital cafeteria food every. single. day. Sometimes for multiple meals. And even though there were some peculiar items on the cycle menu (like a fish fillet coated in red and green artificially colored bread crumbs, which we nicknamed “Christmas Fish”) and the display signs were almost always misspelled (including but not limited to “Pork LION” and “Potato LEAK Stew”), there was one dish everyone knew I looked forward to- the minestrone soup. There was nothing mysterious or misspelled about it.
If you can even imagine, I had never once tried minestrone soup until my employment at this hospital. I know what you are thinking, “Grossssssssss…your first minestrone soup was of the hospital variety?!” And technically you are right. But to me it wasn’t hospital food. It was hearty, it was served Fridays at lunch, and I lived for it.
The hospital cafeteria was where you would run into nurses and patients alike. Where families would sometimes say hi and ask you another question about their family member or friend you had visited earlier in the day or week. It was where you saw excited siblings and grandparents who had just welcomed a new baby. It was constantly too cold and usually being remodeled, but I didn’t care- especially not on Fridays.
There was just something about that Friday soup. Looking back as a now much more experienced minestrone soup eater, it probably wasn’t what I’ve built it up to be. I was, after all, fresh out of graduate school and accustomed to loving any food that came free of charge. Perhaps it was just the promise of the weekend thick in the air, which has a way of making everything seem better, more delicious. Then again, there was always a baseline haze of grill grease and steam tray pollution hanging above my head, so I’m unsure there was much room in the cafeteria atmosphere for much else.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter if that soup was great or not, because it served a purpose: it led me into a soup obsession that has leaked (double checked that I did not just type “leeked”) its way into most of the days of my week now. I’ve worked a basic recipe I found for minestrone soup online into a dish I sometimes daydream about if I’m not careful.
It’s vegan (if you don’t add the cheese blend at the end, but WHY WOULD YOU NOT), gluten-free (if you use the noodles I suggest, or another gluten-free variety you prefer) and is stuffed with enough kale to make you think “that’s probably too much kale, Rachel” but trust me, you can never have too much kale. It comes together easily and I feel confident will be the soup you also come to look forward to. While it simmers away, the house will smell as it only can when you’ve been cooking minestrone soup: wonderful, intoxicating, a little like Friday.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 3 cups kale, chopped with stem removed
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- Kosher salt and ground pepper
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomato
- 1 14.5-ounce no-salt-added diced tomato
- 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup brown rice pasta (or desired pasta)
- ⅓ cup three cheese blend (optional for topping, I like the one from Trader Joe's)
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the celery and carrot and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the kale, dried oregano and basil, ¾ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste; cook 3 more minutes.
- Add the diced and crushed tomatoes and the vegetable broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in the kidney beans and pasta and cook until the pasta and vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Season with more ground pepper. Ladle into bowls and top with the Three Cheese Blend as desired.