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Hearty Minestrone with Grilled Cheese Croutons

Killer minestrone with ingenious little cheesy delights on top -- who could resist?

[Re-posted from Juggling With Julia]

A craving for minestrone soup was working its way into my mind over several days. Then, a fortuitous find at my favorite grocery store closed the deal. As I was perusing the discount produce rack, I came upon some of the cutest little zucchini squash I have ever seen. They were in beautiful condition, and the huge bag (it had to be two pounds at least) was just $1.29. This must be fate. I knew then that there was a steaming pot of minestrone in my near future.

I also knew, however, that a bowl full of tomatoes, beans, greens, and
zucchini was not going to thrill anyone except for me. I needed something great
to accompany the soup to pacify the minds and fill the bellies of the rest of
the family. Many thanks to fellow foodie and dietitian, Amber, for inspiring
me! Grilled cheese croutons on top of soup? What a fab and brilliant
idea!

As expected, the kids picked through this AWESOMELY DELICIOUS soup for the
things they liked, but all loved dipping their grilled cheese chunks in it.
Success! The soup truly was fantastic. No joke, I think I ate five bowls of it
in one weekend. I simply could not get enough of its rich flavor and abundance
of vegetables. But don't take my word for it. The two batches I made were a hit with every adult, from my husband to my mom to my pal, Dee.

While it did require a good amount of chopping, it was easy to make and could 
translate well into a crockpot dish as well. The bacon, which I substituted
for pancetta, gave it a bit of flavor without adding much in the way of fat, and
pureeing some of the cannelini beans made for a nice, thick broth. As with many
soups, this one tastes even better the second day. Give it a try!

Hearty Minestrone with Grilled Cheese Croutons
Serves 6
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis on The Food Network

Hearty Minestrone:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 bacon  strips, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups spinach, chopped
1 baking potato, peeled and cubed
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini
beans, drained, rinsed
2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium beef broth
1 cup zucchini, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Grilled Cheese Croutons:
6 slices bread
3 ounces of sliced cheddar, swiss, or other cheese of your choice
~ 6 teaspoons of soft margarine or butter

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery,
bacon, and garlic. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent,
about 10 minutes. Add the spinach and potato and saute for two minutes more.

Add the tomatoes and thyme, and simmer spinach is wilted and the tomatoes
break down, about 10 minutes. While this mixture is simmering, blend half the
beans with about 1/4 cup of the broth in a processor until almost smooth. Add
the pureed bean mixture, remaining broth, and zucchini to the vegetable mixture.
Simmer until the potato pieces are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15
minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

During the final simmering, prepare the grilled cheese croutons. Toast six 
slices of bread lightly (this makes them crisper and less likely to get soggy on
top of the soup). Then, butter one side of each slice lightly. Place three of the
slices, buttered side down, on a nonstick frying pan over medium-low heat. Add
grated cheddar or other cheese of your choice, and top with second slice, with
the buttered side facing up. Grill about two minutes per side, until golden
brown. Remove to cutting board, trim the crusts, and cut each sandwich into
small squares.

Serve soup in bowls topped with four to five grilled cheese croutons.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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