Fall in the Bay Area brings a few weeks of sunshine to ripen tomatoes, then rainy and chilly days, perfect Minestrone Soup weather. Pick those ripened tomatoes off the withering vines, combine them with broth and chopped veggies and herbs in a big pot. This is a pretty forgiving recipe, so if you want to clean out the veggie bin of your fridge, throw in what you’ve got. You could use frozen veggies or canned tomatoes. There is a use for everything, even Parmesan cheese rinds! The rind lends a wonderful flavor to the soup. If it doesn’t break up, leave it in the pot when serving.10 servings: 1 or more Parmesan rinds 1 large onion, diced 1 stalk celery, diced to make ½ cup 1 bunch red Swiss chard, leaves torn off ribs and chopped fine, to make about 3 ½ cups, dice the ribs 1 large red bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup 1/2 pound crimini mushrooms 1 Tb salt (to taste) ½ tsp fresh minced rosemary 1 Tb fresh minced oregano 1 tsp dried basil 6 cloves garlic, minced several grinds black pepper One package (4 links) Aidells sun-dried tomato with mozzarella cheese chicken sausage (optional) 1 bay leaf several shakes red pepper flakes 10 cups (2 1/2 quarts) homemade chicken or vegetable stock Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup or vegetable broth (you can use boxed stock, but it won’t be as good!) 1 can tomato paste 4 cups diced tomatoes (Roma is best) 1 tsp sugar 3-4 dried Porcini mushrooms 1 rind Parmesan cheese 1 cup peeled and diced carrots (2 large carrots) 2 peeled and diced red potatoes 2/3 cup small pasta (I used the tiny tubes called ditalini for my last batch, but I have also used salad macaroni) 4 small zucchini, diced to make 1 ½ cups 1/2 pound green beans, chopped 1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed. 1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels 1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas 1 small bunch Italian parsley, chopped. 1 Tb fresh minced basil (about 5 leaves) Garnish: a few pinches dried oregano to taste ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat stock, Parmesan rinds, tomato paste, tomatoes and sugar in a large pot.
Grind dried Porcini mushrooms in a coffee grinder or small food processor and add to the stock. Add salt to taste.
Fry onions, red bell pepper, chard ribs, garlic, crimini mushrooms, celery, and herbs in olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add to stock.
Slice sausages in half lengthwise and then into half-coins. Stir fry in the same skillet as the onions were in for about 4 minutes, until browned. Add to soup, then ladle some soup into the frying pan and scrape the browned bits into the soup, then pour back into the pot.
Stir in carrots, chard leaves, and potato and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in pasta, canned beans, green beans, zucchini, parsley, corn and peas. Cook 10 minutes on medium. Stir in fresh basil.
Discard bay leaf and ladle into bowl. Stir in a pinch of dried oregano, fresh basil, and a few spoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a slice of good bread such as sourdough, Acme herb slab, foccacia, olive bread, or baguette. Manga!