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Dave Becker's Red Minestrone in his new cookbook Stewed looks a lot like what you'd order at any Italian restaurant. It's got many of the usual players—tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, celery, and pasta—and is simmered gently to preserve the color and flavor of each component. However, instead of adding beans as a thickening agent, Becker introduces a heavy drizzle of cream to the mix. The cream transforms what is often considered peasant food into a luxuriously silky stew.
Why I picked this recipe: I tend to eat a lot of minestrone-type soups, but I'd never made one with cream before.
What worked: This ever-so-slightly creamy take on Italian vegetable soup may not be traditional but it is downright tasty.
What didn't: Becker calls for fresh pasta in the ingredient list, but then allows for 8 to 10 minutes of cooking time in the pot (a bit too long for the fresh stuff). I used dried instead, which matched up with his cooking time. That said, I thought 8 ounces of pasta was far too much for this soup. Next time, I'll go down by half to 4 ounces.
Suggested tweaks: You could easily make this soup vegan by leaving out the cream and cheese garnish, but it will be much less rich. Canned plum tomatoes would also make a fine substitute for fresh (especially in the middle of winter).