The weather here has dipped down to the low 70s. After what seems like weeks (months?) of 90+ degree days, it really feels like heaven outside right now, and I don’t feel too ridiculous posting this minestrone soup recipe.

A couple of weeks ago, I entered this recipe into “The Best Minestrone” contest at food52. I’m very pleased to report that the recipe won; this means I have two recipes going into the food52 cookbook (my turkey pho won the contest for “Best Turkey Leftovers” last fall).

I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the food52 community this past year. I’m extremely grateful for all the wonderful people I’ve met (and all the wonderful recipes they’ve shared) through the site. The first 52 weeks are just about over, but I’m really looking forward to the next 52!

Now, about the minestrone…I love this soup because there’s so much veggie goodness, but it’s so hearty, too. This recipe starts with just a little bit of all-natural bacon, but if you’d rather leave it out, go ahead and proceed with the rest of the recipe. You won’t get the smoky flavor, but you’ll still get a great soup (you could also substitute pancetta for the bacon, but obviously you won’t do that if you are a vegetarian).

I didn’t add any salt to the soup because the bacon and my homemade chicken stock did the trick, but please add it to taste, if necessary. If you eat gluten-free or avoid wheat, you could replace the tortellini with some rice, corn, or other gluten-free pasta, or just leave the noodles out.

As for the pesto, I went the hand-chopped route here because it’s a small batch, I didn’t want to drag out the food processor, and I wanted to use a minimal amount of olive oil. I made the pesto with parsley, which I love, but feel free to use basil instead. You can also use your own favorite homemade or store-bought pesto instead of this one, if you prefer.

Minestrone

Serves 6-8
use organic ingredients whenever possible

Ingredients:

* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 2 slices preservative-free, all-natural bacon, chopped into small pieces
* 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
* 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
* 1 leek, trimmed and sliced
* 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
* 2 ribs of celery, chopped
* 1 zucchini, chopped
* 1 potato, peeled and chopped
* 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, preferably homemade
* one 15 oz. can of cooked chickpeas, preferably organic
* one 28 oz. can of peeled San Marzano tomatoes, with juice
* sea salt, if necessary
* 1 cup kale, chopped fine
* 1 package of high quality, all-natural cheese tortellini
* 1 cup loosely packed basil or parsley
* 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
* 2 cloves garlic, peeled
* 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling- optional
* Grated parmesan cheese for garnish- optional

Directions:

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large pot over low-medium heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook for a minute or two, until they start to brown.

2. Add 2 more tablespoons of oil along with the chopped onion, garlic and leek. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, over low-medium heat until softened.

3. Add the chopped carrot, celery, zucchini, potato and stir around for a minute or two.

4. Add the stock, the chickpeas, and then the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you go. Add a few generous pinches of salt (be judicious if your stock is salted already). Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender.

5. Add the kale and the tortellini, and continue to cook over a simmer until both are tender and cooked through, 5-7 minutes. Taste and add more salt, if necessary.

6. Make the pesto by chopping (and chopping and chopping) the basil by hand until it's very fine...when you do this, you'll reduce it down to about 1/4 cup. As you chop the basil, start to incorporate the other ingredients and chop them fine, too, until you have a lovely finely chopped pesto. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the olive oil. Use as a garnish for the minestrone.

7. Serve the minestrone garnished with a spoonful of the pesto, a few drops of the aged balsamic, and a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Come join the fun at the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Le Creuset.