Season Of Soups – Winter Minestrone with Fennel

Winter is officially here in DC, and by officially I mean it has been decided by me. It didn’t feel like we had much of an autumn this year, which is a shame. Autumn is a beautiful time of the year, with the mild cold adding a crispness to the air without being harsh enough to shuffle you indoors and into a quasi-hibernation state (I’m talking about you winter). Alas, all good things must come to an end.

For me, winter lends itself to old-fashioned meals; comfort foods. Slow, languid cooking just seems right. The crock pot and dutch oven become the stars this season, using their special skills to transform the bitter winter vegetables into a sweet and savory meal. Yes, it is the season of soups and stews; some of my favorite food.

Big Pot O' Soup

While volunteering for chef Christine Illich at L’Academie de Cuisine a few months ago I picked up a delicious minestrone recipe, perfect for the winter. This soup freezes well and like all good soups is flexible with regard to the ingredients used. Feel free the experiment. You’re sure to come up with delicious results.

Winter Minestrone Soup with Fennel

Winter Minestrone with Fennel
adapted from Christine Illich
If you enjoy the fennel flavoring, consider chopping some of the fronds leftover and adding it in addition to the rosemary.

parmesan (optional)
1/4 pound spiral pasta (fusilli, rigatoni, etc)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion; chopped
2 large carrots; chopped
4 stalks of celery; chopped
1 fennel bulb; chopped
2 large leeks; chopped
8 cups of water
1 medium-sized winter squash (I recommend butternut); peeled and chopped
10 ounces spinach (if frozen, drained); chopped
1 large sweet potato; peeled and chopped
1 can great northern beans; drained
1 teaspoon salt
2 sprigs of rosemary; chopped

Boil the pasta as per the package’s instructions.

Sweat the onion, carrots and celery for ten minutes. Add the leeks and fennel for another 10. Add the water, squash, spinach, sweet potato, beans, salt and rosemary and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft. Add additional salt to taste.

To service, place a spoonful or more of pasta into a bowl and pour the soup over. Grate parmesan on top.