Green Minestrone

One of the first Rachael Ray recipes I ever tried, this is a delicious soup for a cool evening. I usually adjust the meat and green veggies to whatever I have on hand, remembering that soups are wonderfully flexible. It's also tasty prepared vegetarian (drop the meat and swap vegetable stock for the chicken).

Green Minestrone
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
4-8 slices pancetta, prosciutto or bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
1 can white beans, cannellini
1 can garbanzo beans, ceci
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups chicken broth or stock
1 cup ditalini pasta or mini penne pasta
small bag frozen green beans
10 oz. spinach, kale or any other dark greens, roughly chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus extra to pass at the table
(optional) 12-16 leaves chopped fresh basil or 1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves

Heat a soup pot over medium high heat. I generally use bacon as my meat, so I skip the additional oil and just cook until crispy, removing the pieces with a slotted spoon and setting aside on a paper-towel-lined plate. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered fat. This way, you get the delicious flavor of the bacon running through the soup and have crispy bacon toppers to add just before serving (instead of soggy bacon that cooks in the broth).

Add onions, celery, garlic, zucchini and bay to the pot, stirring up the darkened pieces of yumminess from the bottom. Season vegetables with salt and pepper. Saute vegetables 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add white beans, garbanzo beans and chicken broth to the pot. Cover soup and bring to a boil. Add pasta and green beans to the soup and cook 8 minutes, or until pasta is just tender. Stir in dark greens to wilt, 1 minute (I prefer kale). Stir in grated cheese and ladle soup into bowls. Top soup with herbs (if using) and bacon.