Preparing the beans: 1. Pick through the beans. Remove discolored, shriveled beans and any foreign material. Rinse well. Set aside until ready to use.
Preparing the soup: 1. Cut bacon in 1/2 inch pieces and sauté for 10 minutes over medium heat in a 6 or 8-quart pot until nearly crisp. 2. Add onion, if using, and sauté 5 minutes. 3. Stir in contents of New York Corner Café Minestrone Mix vegetable packet and toss lightly. 4. Add beans, beef broth and water to pot. 5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 1 hour. 6. Add tomatoes and brussel sprouts (or shredded cabbage). Cover and cook for 20 minutes. 7. Add pasta and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
Garnish with grated parmesan cheese.
To boost vegetables, add 1 large chopped fennel bulb with the tomatoes and Brussel sprouts, and/or add 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas in final 5 minutes of cooking.
To give a Mediterranean twist, substitute 1 pound scallops or firm white fish for bacon, and add in final 10 minutes of cooking.
To cut saturated fat and sodium, halve the amount of bacon and prepare with lower sodium, turkey bacon as substitute for bacon, or substitute 1/2 pound extra lean ground turkey plus 1/2 teaspoon each salt-free garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper, or go Vegetarian or go for a Mediterranean twist. Garnish each serving with 3 or 4 fresh basil leaves rather grated Parmesan cheese, or sprinkle on just a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese per serving.
To cut sodium, prepare with no salt added canned diced tomatoes or diced fresh tomatoes, and prepare with low sodium broth. To cut sodium further, substitute water for half of the broth.
For a fun variation - substitute the bacon with garlic and parsnips and use vegetable broth.
Here's what you do: Preparing the beans: 1. Rinse, drain and pick over the beans. 2. Place beans in a bowl, cover with plenty of water and allow to soak for 4 hours at room temperature or overnight. Or, for a quick soak, boil for 10 minutes in water and let stand for 2 hours. 3. Drain beans, place in 4-qt pot with 8 cups fresh water. 4. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer covered for 1 hour. Preparing the soup: 1. Sauté onions and garlic in oil over medium heat in a 6 or 8-quart pot for 5 minutes. 2. Stir in contents of New York Corner Café Minestrone Mix vegetable packet and toss lightly. 3. Drain beans and add with broth. 4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 1 hour. 5. Add tomatoes, parsnips, and brussel sprouts. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. 6. Add pasta and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
Optional: Garnish with grated parmesan cheese.
Slow Cooker Variation
Recommended slow cooker size: 6 quart
Preparing the beans the night before: 1. Rinse, drain and pick over the beans. 2. Place beans in a bowl with 2 quarts water, let stand on counter overnight.
Assembling the soup in the morning (or the night before): 1. Cut bacon in 1/2 inch pieces and sauté over medium heat in a skillet until nearly crisp. 2. Add onion and contents of vegetable packet and sauté 5 minutes on low heat. 3. Transfer mixture to bowl of slow cooker. (May cover and refrigerate overnight.)
Cooking: • Drain beans and add with broth to slow cooker. Cover and cook on High 4-5 hours. • Add tomatoes and Brussels sprouts. Cover and cook on High 2 hours. Add pasta for last 30 minutes.