Creating anything garden-fresh in a slow cooker is a tall order, but we were willing to try to beat the odds and develop a recipe for a minestrone that married a flavorful tomato broth with fresh vegetables, beans, and pasta.
The base of our soup would be our broth, and after microwaving the aromatics we added broth and canned tomato sauce along with carrots and dried beans — both of which could sustain a long stay in a slow cooker.
Sliced zucchini and chopped chard were simply added during the last 20 minutes of cooking, and the precooked pasta was stirred in at the end. Serve with crusty bread to dip into the broth.
Start to finish: 8 to 10 hours on high
Slow cooker size: 4 to 7 quarts
1 onion, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup dried great Northern or cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup small pasta, such as ditalini, tubettini, or elbow macaroni
Salt and pepper
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
8 ounces Swiss chard, stemmed and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
Grated Parmesan cheese
Microwave onion, garlic, 1 tablespoon oil, oregano, and pepper flakes in bowl, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker. Stir in broth, tomato sauce, beans, and carrots. Cover and cook until beans are tender, 8 to 10 hours on high.
Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts water to boil in large saucepan. Add pasta and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Drain pasta, rinse with cold water, then toss with remaining 1 teaspoon oil in bowl; set aside.
Stir zucchini and chard into soup, cover, and cook on high until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in pasta and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing Parmesan and extra oil separately.
Nutrition information per serving: 224 calories; 46 calories from fat; 5 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 1 mg cholesterol; 601 mg sodium; 34 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 11 g protein.
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