Hearty vegetable soup - make the most of leftovers!

My wonderful neighbor who has been so good to me the past few years has been under the weather lately. I tried to think of all the things I could do to help out from picking up the mail to driving to the store.

Finally it hit me; a hearty vegetable soup in a rich chicken stock base would be perfect! After a quick raid of my freezer (I am a saver of all bits and pieces of food) I pulled together a heart warming, soul satisfying tomato, broccoli, chick pea, zucchini and pasta soup - with leftovers to spare.

I realize the list of additions below seems rather lengthy but you don't need them all. Feel free to try different combinations or just add the things your family likes to eat.

Everything-in-your-kitchen soup (Hearty soup with vegetables)

The base
• 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 2 celery stalks, diced
• 1 carrot, diced
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 tablespoon basil (dried)
• 1 teaspoon oregano (dried)
• 3 tablespoons tomato paste
• 6 cups chicken stock

Salt & pepper to taste.

Additions (choose any combination)
• 1-2 tomatoes, diced (peel on or off)
• broccoli, blanched or steamed, cut up
• cauliflower, blanched or steamed, cut up
• 1 cup green beans, cut into 1" pieces
• 1 cup garbanzo beans
• 1 cup cooked corn
• 2 zucchini, cut into pieces
• 1/2 cup broken spaghetti or other small pasta

Optional for serving:
• Grated parmesan
• Lemon juice

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions, carrot and celery. Saute for about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add the garlic, basil and oregano. Stir. Then add the tomato paste and stir to mix with veggies. Finally, add the stock and turn up the heat. When the soup base hits a simmer add enough salt/pepper to taste. Hint: you'll probably need about a teaspoon of salt and a 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

Now it's time to add your fixin's. I usually save bits of veggies (leftovers which were cooked - saves time when making this) and freeze in small bags, including chopped tomatoes which lose texture when frozen and thawed but still add flavor. I add whatever is on hand; at least 3 types of veggies, some beans (garbanzo, cooked white beans, etc.) and pasta. Cook for about 5 minutes (enough for the pasta to absorb some of the water.) Add the zucchini last (to avoid super mushy zucchini!)

The soup is ready for tasting before the final addition of salt/pepper and possibly a squeeze of lemon. I always have lemon on hand to lighten and brighten my food - it's a personal preference but often is what you want when someone says "this dish is missing something."

Hope this soup brightens your day and your table!

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