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, puréed 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.
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, 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 eight 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.
You're going to need chicken stock 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.
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 picks up a few containers of chicken broth instead. Happy soup-making!
When I pull out the slow cooker, I want to get more than one meal out of it, and this soup recipe definitely doesn't disappoint. On the surface, it may seem a bit fussy to prep most of the vegetables to throw in at the end (it is a slow-cooker recipe, after all), but I think it's worth it to wait to so that they don't turn to mush.
To make life easier, prep the vegetables and pasta the night before, too — that way, all you have to do is stir them into the slow cooker when you get home and dinner is ready in just 20 more minutes.
- Christine, January 2016
Slow Cooker Hearty Chicken Minestrone
Serves 6 to 8
For the broth:
1 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
1 medium leek, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
1 quart (4 cups) low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup whole-wheat pasta shells
1 bunch red Swiss chard
1/2 head green cabbage or 4 cups of shredded cabbage
1 medium zucchini
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
For the broth:
Place the chicken, leek, tomatoes and their juices, carrots, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon salt in the insert of a large slow cooker (at least 4 quarts). Season with pepper and add the broth and water. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or high for 4 hours. Meanwhile, prep the other vegetables and cook the pasta.
Cook the pasta shells according to package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water, then store in the refrigerator.
Remove the stems from the chard. Cut the leaves crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces. Place in a large bowl. Core the cabbage, thinly slice, and add to the bowl of chard. Halve the zucchini lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces and add to the bowl. Refrigerate until the broth is ready. (The pasta can be cooked and the vegetables prepared up to a day in advance.)
When the broth is ready, remove the chicken and bay leaf to a plate and let cool slightly. Meanwhile, add the bowl of vegetables to the broth and stir to combine. Cover the slow cooker, turn the heat to high if not already on high, and cook until the greens are tender but not mushy, 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove the chicken meat from the bones and discard the skin, bones, and bay leaf. Shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. Stir the garbanzos, chicken, and cooked pasta into the soup. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Updated from a recipe originally published January 2012.
(Image credits: Melissa Ryan)