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Meatball minestrone soup a hearty one-pot meal

  • McClatchy Newspapers
  • Published Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011, at 12:04 a.m.

Soup makes an inviting meal with a tantalizing aroma that welcomes everyone to the table. Minestra is Italian for soup, and minestrone is a hearty vegetable soup.

In Italy, specific recipes are rarely followed; cooks use ingredients they have on hand, including pasta, beans, leftover meat and vegetables.

This meatball minestrone is a one-pot meal. (The recipe can be doubled easily. If you have time, make a large pot and use it for another meal.) Fennel seeds and oregano give the meatballs a distinctive taste. Fennel seeds are oval, green- brown seeds from the common fennel plant. They have an anise taste and are used in many liqueurs. They can be found in the spice section of your market and will keep for six months.

Brushing the top of the bread with garlic gives it just a hint of spice that doesn't overwhelm the other flavors in the meal. If you're a big garlic fan, though, simply add another clove to the recipe.

The pasta will absorb the soup liquid if left to sit for any length of time. If you are not serving the soup immediately, cook the pasta in a separate pot of water for 10 minutes. Drain, reserving a little of the cooking liquid. Add 1/2 teaspoon olive oil to the liquid and toss in the pasta to keep it from sticking. Add the pasta to the soup a few minutes before serving to warm through.

This meal contains 596 calories per serving with 23 percent of calories from fat.

Herbed Meatball Minestrone

1/2tablespoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon oregano

6 oz. very lean ground beef

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/2cup sliced onion

1/2cup sliced carrots

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 cup canned low-sodium, whole tomatoes (including juice)

1 cup low-sodium tomato juice

2 cups fat-free, low-salt chicken broth

2 cups water

1/2cup acini pepe, pastina or other very small pasta

1/2cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 cups washed, ready-to-eat spinach

1/2cup fresh basil torn into small pieces

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Mix fennel seeds and oregano into ground beef. Add a little salt and pepper and form into meatballs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Heat oil in a medium-sized, nonstick sauce pan over medium-high heat. Brown meatballs on all sides, about 5 minutes. They will be cooked through. Remove to a plate and add onion, carrot and garlic to pan. Saute 2 minutes without browning the vegetables. Add the whole tomatoes, including juice, and break them up with the edge of a spoon. Add the tomato juice, chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil. Add pasta, reduce heat slightly and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice to make sure the pasta cooks freely in the liquid.

Add chickpeas, spinach and basil to soup. Return meatballs to the soup, stir and cook to wilt spinach, about 30 seconds. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in large soup bowls with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. Makes 2 servings.

Per serving: 432 calories (21 percent from fat), 10.1 g fat (3.5 g saturated, 4.2 g monounsaturated), 112 mg cholesterol, 34.6 g protein, 52.8 g carbohydrates, 7.0 g fiber, 778 mg sodium.

The Wichita Eagle — 02/01/11

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