Monday, January 24, 2011

Need a warm-up?

Last night, I stayed up all night--until five this morning--because the weather report predicted that it was going to hit THIRTY BELOW with a -45 wind chill factor! Having never experienced that kind of cold in this house, I was very worried about pipes freezing and such; so I was the overnight monitor, keeping the wood stove burning brightly and the taps a-trickling. However, the wind advisory was cancelled, and by 5am, it was obvious that we weren't going any lower than 21 below with no wind chill to speak of. Now to those of you from other climes, that may seem impressive (and hideous), but I experienced -23 a couple of years ago, so it wasn't especially exciting, nor worth staying up all night for! :-(

But it was cold enough that most local schools and many businesses were closed today, and my roommate even stayed home from work to try and stay inside and keep warm. (However, when I finally got up and came downstairs at noon, I found her boiling water in the kitchen in a panic because the kerosene monitor heater was "out of fuel." Um...or she could have just hit the reset button! Can I not sleep for a few hours without everything falling apart? Sheesh!)

So the goal for dinner tonight was to make something hot, hearty, and using ingredients I already had on hand, as I was not about to venture out into the frigid weather to go to the store. Of course, I thought to make a soup or stew, but my roomie has this prejudice against soup, believing that it's not substantive enough to count as a proper dinner. So I found a recipe online that I thought would fool her into believing it was, as she put it, "real food." I made a big cauldron of a copycat version of Olive Garden's pasta fagioli soup., and besides a little bit of veggie chopping, it was easy and really good.

Unfortunately, we don't have an Olive Garden in our town--the closest one is in Burlington (VT). So this recipe is handy to have to be able to make one of their tasty soups at home. Because it feed a lot of folks inexpensively, this would also be great for a potluck gathering to take in your crock pot. Actually, I found the recipe on a slow cooker website, and it can even be cooked in a crock pot, which is even handier. But I made it on the stove top in my lovely cassis-colored Le Creuset dutch oven because I was home today to tend to it. Either way, it's yummy and warm and spicy and filling--just the ticket during a deep freeze.

Olive Garden-Style Pasta Fagioli Soup
(Source: adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking)

1 pound lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled and diced (about three very large)
1 cup celery, diced (about two large stalks)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 cups beef broth
2 cans (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes (and juice)
1 jar (16.5 oz) pasta sauce (like Prego)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup small dry pasta (cooked separately*)

In a five-quart stock pot, brown the ground beef. As the meat is browning, add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute until the meat is completely brown, and the veggies are somewhat tender. Add the beef broth to the pot, along with the tomatoes and pasta sauce. Stir in all of the seasonings, bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the pasta separately* to an al dente consistency. Set aside. When the soup has simmered long enough to suit you, add the beans and warm them through. Add cooked pasta to individual bowls and ladle soup over. Garnish with a generous sprinkle of grated parmesan (the real stuff--not that green crap in the can!) before serving.

*If you add dry pasta to the soup to cook, it sucks up too much of the broth. Also, the pasta becomes mushy if you reheat or freeze. So it's best to add it separately. And I would prepare at least a half a (pound) box.


Douglas said...

We love soup...I"m totally trying this.

Joy Bugaloo said...

It's very good and very easy. That's a winning combo! ;-)

Thanks for the comment. --Gina