italian minestrone soup with garlic bruschetta

     Today was a regrouping kind of day. My first whole day back home after Spring Break. I spent the past six days visiting my mom, by myself  in Florida. Not much cooking. Lots of relaxing. Plenty of laughing.
     Traveling alone rarely happens. I savored every minute of it. Singing slightly off-key loudly to the radio, stopping to shop whenever I chose, and visiting every Starbucks on I-95 between south Georgia and central Florida. A lovely trip, really. Tomorrow, it's back to reality. Sigh.
     The dogs missed me the most. Judging by the puddle Annie left in the driveway when I greeted her, I'd venture a guess that they've lacked the attention they think they deserve. But, I am the only one that customizes their meals. A little dry food, a little raw meat, a few veggies. The Fam calls the dogs needy. I wonder who's the pot and who's the kettle.
     I think my husband missed me a little. He subsists on cereal and the kindness of others when I'm away. I don't think the past week was particularly kind.
     So, tonight it's soup. I'm in the mood for a piping hot bowl of rustic minestrone. I have everything to make it, right here in my own kitchen. Ruby slippers not-withstanding, there's no place like home.
     This soup is comforting, healthy and ageless. Dating back to the first century B.C., Italian minestrone is known to belong to the style of cooking called 'cucina povera' or poor kitchen. Historically, minestrone soup is customized to the season by using freshly harvested vegetables. In winter, squash, parsnips & root vegetables punctuate the pot. In summer, zucchini, leeks, tomatoes beans and corn are popular.
     We're sort of in between the growing seasons, so I'm taking advantage of modern conveniences by using a few fresh, some frozen and a couple of canned vegetables. You can make this soup to your own taste. Just be sure to keep the amount of veggies roughly equal to one another.
     Oh, and if your soup turns out super thick...since you added too much pasta because you think I don't know what I'm talking about. Or maybe some extra people showed up for dinner at the last minute and you need to stretch it, just add a little more stock, (up to 2 c.)
     I'm also toasting some bruschetta to perch on the edge of the bowl... Or to dunk. Or shove to the bottom to soak up the savory broth. I'm a shover. The hubs is a dunker.
1 T. olive oil
1 slice bacon or pancetta, chopped
1 t. red chili flakes
2 large carrots, sliced
1 medium onion, rough cut
2 garlic cloves, minced
a splash of dry white wine
1 15-oz. can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 c. frozen corn
2 c. frozen, cut green beans
6 cups homemade chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
fresh thyme
fresh rosemary
1/2 c. ditilani (cut) pasta... yes, this IS enough
1 big handful chopped kale leaves
basil pesto and/or olive tapenade (optional for garnish)
In a large, deep pot heat olive oil and add chopped bacon. When bacon begins to jump around and make happy, sizzling noises toss in the carrots, onion and garlic. Sweat veggies until everything just begins to brown. Deglaze with a splash or two of wine and dump in the tomatoes, corn and both beans.

Pour in chicken stock. Zest the lemon into the pot and squeeze in juice. Season with salt and pepper. Let the soup simmer for fifteen minutes. Your kitchen should smell so groovy right about now.
While you're waiting, hum the theme to Jeopardy and slice up the bread for the bruschetta. Place on the baking sheet and set aside. (See directions below.)
Raise heat to medium. Add the fresh herbs and pasta. Cook until the pasta is barely tender, stirring often. Throw in the big handful of kale leaves, then toss in a few more. Stop your whining and just do it. Kale is good for you and this is a sneaky and unobtrusive way to get everyone to eat their greens... even you!
Scroll back to the top and look at the picture. Isn't it pretty? That's because it's not a bowl of all brown or white or beige food.
Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, simmer for an additional fifteen minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. When dipping up the soup, add a drizzle of basil pesto or a dollop of olive tapenade on top (or both,) and sprinkle with shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve with garlic-rubbed bruschetta.
Garlic-rubbed Bruschetta
Place any type, sliced baguette on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (I had half a loaf of dark, Mediterranean olive bread and half a loaf of Tuscan rosemary.) If you're a well-disciplined person allow two pieces per person. If not, just slice up the whole dang thing and proceed.
Drizzle each slice with a bit of olive oil and bake at 400 degrees until brown and crispy. Remove from oven and rub both sides of bread with a whole clove of raw garlic. Drizzle a couple of drops of olive oil on each slice, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and black pepper. Try not to eat it all before the soup is ready.
My mom says I still say, Mmmm after each bite. every bite. every time.