Recipe: Hearty Chicken Minestrone

The New Year brings different traditions for different folks. Some make black-eyed peas, others make firm resolutions. I make chicken stock. There's something wonderfully industrious about making homemade stock, and this year on New Year's Day that's where I found myself. I find that the soups I make throughout the year are rather predictable. In the fall, pureed soups have their day in the sun. It's our way of feeling out the soup waters, so to speak -- sticking out a baby toe and gently easing in. Then come the holidays when we take it one step further with french onion, lentil and bean soups. But after the holidays, I always find myself staring down a refrigerator with extra odds and ends (celery, a few carrots, a random zucchini). That's where this soup recipe comes in.
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It's hearty in a perfect-for-winter kind of way and it'll also give you the excuse you need to clean out the crisper after the holidays. So often minestrone soup recipes can be a little thin or timid with a gentle tomato broth and a few noodles and beans. This soup is far from gentle or timid. It's chock full of greens, carrots and celery, zucchini, beans, tomatoes and shredded chicken. With a piece of crusty bread or a small salad, you have a meal that, if you're anything like me, you won't tire of for many days. I find this recipe serves close to 8 people so I usually freeze half right off the bat to pull out on a night when I'm not sure what to do for dinner.
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You're going to need chicken stock and shredded chicken for this soup. I like to make homemade chicken stock so you'll begin by roasting a chicken and then using the carcass to make your stock. While not at all difficult, this will take a good chunk of the day in and of itself so I usually do the stock the day before I actually make the soup. It's largely inactive cooking time so you can do things around the house rather than stand at the stove for hours on end. No one needs that after the holidays.
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My sister likes this recipe but she can't be bothered to roast a chicken and make her own stock, so as a shortcut, she buys a roast chicken at the grocery store and picks up a few containers of chicken broth. Not as good, but whatever works for you.

If you do have time to quickly roast a chicken or make a batch of stock, I've included links in the recipe itself to help guide you through. Happy soup-making!

Hearty Chicken Minestrone

Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium leek, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces and rinsed
3 cloves garlic, minced
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
8 cups chicken broth
1 cup whole-wheat pasta shells
3 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 bunch red Swiss chard, washed and sliced into large strips
1/2 head green cabbage, cored and chopped
1 medium zucchini, diced
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 cups shredded cooked chicken, from a roast chicken
Salt and pepper

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the leek. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add can of tomatoes (with the juice) and allow it to cook down for about five minutes until the juice thickens. Add the bay leaf and chicken broth and bring the soup to a boil. Add pasta, carrots, and celery and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the Swiss chard, cabbage, zucchini and chickpeas and cook until the zucchini softens but still remains relatively crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Add the shredded chicken and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes, or until the chicken is hot. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

Related: Beyond Minestrone: 5 Recipes for Pasta Soups

(Images: Megan Gordon)

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