Fall is upon us and winter will be here before we know it. I love soups of all kinds and this is one of my favorites...my take on Ina's Garten's Winter Minestrone Soup.
Start by bringing a pot of salted water to a boil. Heat about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot. Add about 3 Italian hot sausage links (out of casing) and about 6 strips of thick cut bacon (cut into small pieces) to the heated oil and brown. Once meat is browned, add one small shallot diced, 1/2 cup carrots diced, 1 zucchini diced, 4 to 5 cloves of minced garlic, and fresh thyme leaves. At this point, I also add about 3 celery stocks with leaves. You can dice the celery and leave in soup, I just prefer the flavor and will remove once soup is finished. Cook for about 10 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add one box of chopped/diced tomatoes, 6 Cups of chicken stock (I use Rachel Ray's), 2 to 3 bay leaves and salt/pepper. Allow the pot to come to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes.
Add your favorite small pasta to the boiling salted water. I prefer Barilla's Mezze Penne. Cook to just al dente. Drain and set aside.
When soup has simmered and vegetables are softened, remove the bay leaves and celery stalks and discard. Add two cans of cannellini beans (drained and rinsed). Add one big bag of baby spinach leaves and prepared pesto. I love She's Pesto. She is local to Charlotte. Two to three frozen cubes of her homemade pesto is perfect for this soup. If soup is too thick, add a bit more chicken stock. Taste for salt...add more if needed. Serve in individual bowls and top with Parmesan cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and fresh chiffonades of basil.