John Kemp’s Kitchen: Minute Meals
As the semester progresses, I’m sure you’ve all been feeling the same pressure I have to keep up with classes, turn in assignments, and prepare for those nasty midterms. If our lives as students revolved solely around school, I’m sure that nobody would ever have any issue maintaining a perfect academic record. The trouble is, they don’t. We have relationships to maintain, families to be a part of, laundry to do, rent to pay, shoes to shine, goldfish to feed, and so many other things to do that take up our time outside of school.
One of the most common extra-curricular responsibilities that we have as developing adults is that of feeding oneself. This responsibility, for most people, has by far the highest PITA factor (Pain-in-the-Ass factor) of all: “adulting” chores. It requires managing the complicated logistics of expiry dates, grocery shopping and, above all, simply thinking of what to make. Even though I do enjoy putting myself to work in the kitchen, trying to find time to organize and cook my meals can be a daunting task. For this reason, I’ve taken full advantage of the preserving qualities of the freezer over the past few years. I’ll make a bulk portion of something, whether it be a stew or even pasta sauce, and simply freeze it so that I can pull it out any time and have a ready meal. This saves incredible amounts of time and stress and lets me cook when I want to cook—not when I have to.
Recently, I made a great big pot of this hearty minestrone soup which I’ve certainly appreciated having ready when I get home from school after 9 hours of class. It’s chock-full of vegetables (and is in fact vegetarian with the parmesan; vegan without), making it a great one-bowl meal that’s still full of vitamins and nutrients. Have it with a couple slices of toasted rye and you’ve got yourself a solid weeknight meal.
Yield: about 10-12 portions
5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup frozen peas
2 medium white potatoes, scrubbed and diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. dried oregano
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 vegetable stock cubes
5-6 cups water
2 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (add about 1 tablespoon if you really want some kick)
Salt to taste
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1-2 cups pasta (orecchiette is the traditional choice but any small noodles will work just fine)
2 cups spinach, chopped (I would do a wide chiffonade with these)
Parmesan to garnish
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, carrot, celery, tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring continuously until the onions sweat. If you find the mixture is too dry and is beginning to brown, add more oil and lower the heat slightly.
Once the onions are cooked, add the peas, potatoes, thyme, garlic, and oregano. Cook for about 2 minutes before adding the tomatoes with their juices, stock cubes, water, and bay leaves.
Allow to simmer on medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and tasting and adjusting as you go. Add the spinach, pasta, and beans and allow to cook until the pasta is just under al dente stage—it will sit in the liquid while it cools and continue to cook and absorb liquid.
Serve sprinkled generously with parmesan. Note that if the soup is left to sit in its liquid state overnight, it will become more like a stew because of the tendency of the ingredients to absorb the liquid. This is perfectly okay and simply makes it more filling. If you’d like to maintain the liquid quality of the soup, freeze it immediately after allowing it to cool down. Enjoy!