When I was growing up, Marcia Brown’s Stone Soup was one of my favorite books. The story is based on an old folk tale about three soldiers who enter a village. Knowing soldiers are notoriously hungry, the peasants hide their food. In a battle of wits, the soldiers convince the villagers they can make soup out of anything, even a stone. But they’ll need a carrot and some meat, some of this and that — you get the idea.
In the end, the soup contains a lot more than just stones. There’s a lesson about working together, even in hard times, to benefit the greater good — or something. The first time I read Stone Soup, I immediately ran outside, gathered pebbles from the front yard, and plopped them into a pot of hot water. My soup didn’t turn out as well as the bubbling cauldron in the book.
Traditionally, minestrone soup is made from beans, tomatoes, pasta, and whatever vegetables are in season. Inspired by Marcia Brown’s tale, the cooler weather, and a fridge full of odds and ends, I concocted this pseudo-minestrone out of leftover couscous, Swiss chard, fennel and Yukon gold potatoes. I never know what to do with fennel, and my attempts at experimentation with it usually fail, but this was a success, at least according to my counterpart and taste-tester, Mr. Doom.
The point was to make soup without running to the market — mission accomplished. Feel free to substitute vegetables, pasta, or beans; if you do, let us know what you come up with. Lose the chicken stock and this recipe is easily vegetarian. Stones are not recommended but also not discouraged, especially if they trick neighbors into giving you free ingredients for a soup everyone can enjoy.
Makes one big pot
1 fennel bulb chopped into ½ inch pieces (save leaves for garnish)
1 medium onion, chopped into ½ inch pieces
2 cloves minced garlic
2 celery stalks sliced into ½ inch pieces
2 Yukon gold potatoes chopped into ½ inch pieces
½ cup olive oil
1 35-ounce can crushed whole tomatoes
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 bunch Swiss chard leaves, sliced thin
1 cup cooked couscous
Parmesan cheese for garnish
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, celery, fennel, and potatoes. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you like, turn up the heat and brown the veggies a bit for more flavor and texture.
Add crushed tomatoes, juices, chicken or vegetable stock, and cannellini beans. Season everything with two teaspoons salt and a half-teaspoon of pepper. Increase the heat and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, another 10 minutes.
Add Swiss chard and season lightly with a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste.
Cook pasta, rice, or other grain separately. Here, we used leftover couscous cooked ahead of time and added it right to the pot. You can also serve pasta individually and ladle soup over top.
Garnish with Parmesan cheese and a few sprigs of fresh fennel.
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