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Comfort Food: Slurp happy in a hurry

Does this sound familiar? It’s cold. You’re ending a long, busy day. You’re harried, hungry and clueless about what’s for supper.

I’ve been there. So now I make sure to have vital basics always on hand: canned beans, tomatoes, pasta and chicken broth. By adding just a few other refrigerated or frozen convenience items, I can have a nourishing bowl of soup on the table super-fast.

Recipe Included

This aromatic, Italian-inspired pesto-pasta soup is one way to go. (For more, see my minestrone and fish chowder.)

To minimize prep time, the recipe calls for store-bought basil pesto and pre-washed, ready-to-eat baby spinach. For variety and a heartier dish, I sometimes toss in some diced ham or leftover roast chicken. Or, when my vegetarian relatives are around, I start with vegetable broth and stay meatless.

I round out the meal with crusty bread. If time allows, I may turn the bread into crostini: This involves brushing thickly cut slices generously with olive oil and baking them in a 375-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until toasted and crisp. The next step is to smear on a little of that pesto, then sprinkle them with shredded mozzarella or another soft, mild cheese. (Adding some sliced kalamata olives or well-drained jarred roasted sweet pepper chunks won’t hurt, either.) Finally, they go back in the oven just until the cheese starts to melt.

-- Nancy Baggett, whose recipes and blog can be found at

Easy Meal-in-a-Bowl Pesto, Pasta and Bean Soup
4 to 6 generous servings

Fresh basil and chives aren’t always on hand this time of year, but if you’re lucky enough to have them, coarsely chop a handful and toss them in at the end of cooking. They’ll lend a garden fresh flavor that’s downright irresistible in the dead of winter. Of course, if you’ve got fresh basil you can also make your own pesto. Yes, the homemade is better than store-bought, but I find the commercial product a convenient and acceptable alternative.

For a slightly meatier soup, stir in about 1/2 cup diced ham or roasted chicken meat when you add the tomatoes and their juices.

MAKE AHEAD: Refrigerate the cooled soup in an airtight container for 3 or 4 days. Add broth or water as needed when you reheat the soup.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup peeled and chopped carrot, celery, or onion (or a combination)
4 to 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth (may substitute vegetable broth)
1 teaspoon dried thyme or dried marjoram
1/2 cup pf 1 1/2-inch-long pieces broken-up vermicelli or other similar thin pasta
Half a 6-ounce bag of fresh baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
One 14- to 15-ounce can white cannellini beans or great northern beans, rinsed and well drained
1/4 cup store-bought basil pesto, or more to taste
One 15-ounce can diced garlic-and basil-seasoned tomatoes or regular canned diced tomatoes, including juices
Generous handful of fresh basil leaves or chives, coarsely chopped (optional)
Water, as needed
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the oil and chopped vegetables in a 5- to 6-quart pot over medium heat; stir to coat. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then add 4 cups of the broth and the dried thyme or marjoram.

Increase the heat to high and bring to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until barely al dente.

Add the spinach, beans, pesto, tomatoes and their juices; mix well, then reduce the heat to medium (a gentle boil). Cook for 5 minutes to blend the flavors. If desired, add the basil or chives; cook for 1 minute, stirring. Use the remaining cup of broth or water to thin the soup to the desired consistency. Season with salt, pepper and additional basil pesto to taste.

Divide among individual bowls; serve hot.

Per serving (based on 6): 200 calories, 9 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 529 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  February 1, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Comfort Food , Recipes  | Tags: Comford Food, Nancy Baggett, recipes, soup  
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Thank you for the recipe, it sounds delicious. It sounds perfect for this cold season.

Posted by: lah9999 | February 2, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Hey guys, this sounds yummy! Only thing - I hate beans. Could I substitute them for just more veggies?

Posted by: shauch | February 2, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

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