Tuscan Bean & Pasta Soup
2 cups dry small white beans (soaked overnight in 6 cups water)
8 cups water
1 tsp dry basil
1 tsp dry oregano
1 bay leaf
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp olive oil (or canola oil)
1 large sweet onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled & sliced
2 large celery stalks, sliced
Dry small shell pasta (about 2 cups)
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
Soak the beans in a covered pot in 6 cups of water overnight, or for at least 8 hours. When the skins begin to split the beans are ready. Drain and rinse the beans. Set aside. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over med-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring a bit to prevent sticking, for about 3 minutes. Pour in 8 cups of water, all the beans, the bay leaf and the dried herbs. Stir well to blend, cover and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils, reduce heat, crack the lid a little, and simmer over low or med-low heat for 90 minutes. Then add the carrots, celery and onion. Stir well and continue to cook another 45 minutes, or until the beans are tender and a nice broth has developed. Add the fresh basil, stir well, and cook another 15 minutes. (The soup should cook a total of at least two and a half hours, but it can also be allowed to simmer for up to five hours before serving, just be sure to add the basil during the last 15 minutes of cooking.) During the last 20 minutes of cooking the soup, cook the pasta in a separate pot of rapidly boiling water according to package directions. Cook the pasta al dente, (do not overcook) drain, rinse and set aside. To serve, scoop about 1 ladleful of pasta shells into each bowl and then add a few ladlefuls of soup. Stir it together in each bowl and serve. I don't add the pasta directly to the pot of soup because it will absorb too much broth and get soggy.
This recipe makes a very large pot of soup. I always make my soups in large quantities and reheat it throughout the week. It makes for easy lunches and dinners that way. If you want less soup just divide all the ingredients in half and proceed. The soup will last about a week in the fridge. To reheat, heat individual servings in the microwave, or scoop what you need into a smaller pot and reheat over medium heat. If you reheat the whole pot of soup each time the beans and veggies will eventually turn to mush. Do not save left over pasta in the soup, as it will absorb too much of the broth. Rather, you should make new pasta to add to each serving of soup, or save left over pasta separately in a ziploc bag and add to each serving of soup during the last few minutes of reheating. This is a really good soup, and it is very healthy. Naturally low in fat, totally vegan (although you don't have to be vegan, or even vegetarian, to enjoy this wonderful soup), and packed with protien, fiber and many vitamins and minerals, this soup is a great meal in itself, or a good starter for an Italian dinner. Serve it with crusty Italian bread or warm whole grain rolls and a nice leafy salad for a complete, delicious and healthy meal. Enjoy!