I often receive letters and emails from friends, family and readers asking for ideas for cheap lunches. Aside from the ubiquitous cheese sandwich or home made scone-muffin-type-thing and an apple, banana or pear, one of my favourite staple lunches for this time of year is A Good Hearty Soup. And nothing says hearty soup quite like one packed with pasta and beans and chunky vegetables! I’ve been making minestrone soup for so long, I’m amazed it didn’t make it into either of my books – but I guess I’d never taken the time to write the recipe down and think about it too much. It’s one of my staples for a leftover half can of beans or chopped tomatoes, a scraggy little carrot or half an onion in the bottom of the veg drawer, tired greens, and those little broken bits of pasta in the bottom of the bag, or odds and sods of pasta that aren’t quite enough to do anything with. I keep all the last few bits of pasta, and the broken bits, in a large jar, smashed to smithereens – perfect for tossing into soups like this one. Why buy specialty tiny pasta, when you can make your own?!
Makes six mug-sized portions or four generous bowlfuls:
1 onion, 6p
2 fat cloves of garlic, 4p
1 carrot, 6p
1 tbsp oil (sunflower or vegetable), 3p
400g tin or carton of chopped tomatoes, 40p
600ml chicken stock (1 stock cube plus 600ml water), 3p
400g baked beans with the sauce rinsed off, 30p
100g broken up pasta or spaghetti, 7p
½ tsp mixed dried herbs, 2p
100g frozen spinach, 15p
First, finely dice the onion and peel and chop the garlic, and toss into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Dice the carrot and add to the onion and garlic. Pour over the oil, stir, and cook on a medium heat for around 5 minutes to start to soften. (I’m often asked why I don’t heat the oil *first*, like many other cooks and chefs do, and it’s because even after all this time I’m not very fast at the whole vegetable-chopping-up malarkey, and so the oil gets too hot and it sizzles and burns the veg and me and it all just doesn’t work for me that way round. So I do all the chopping, and then add it all to the pan and heat it through. If you are a super fast and fancy chopper, you might want to heat the oil first and save yourself a minute or two.)
When the veg has started to soften, pour over the chopped tomatoes, add the water, and crumble in the chicken stock cube. Some people like to boil the water and make the stock separately, but we’re going to bring it all to the boil anyway now, so save yourself the washing up and do it the lazy way. Crank the heat right up, toss in the smashed-up-pasta-pieces and the mixed dried herbs, and bring it all to the boil. When it’s bubbling away, stir it well, add the frozen spinach here if using (fresh greens go in at the end otherwise they go limp and greyish and just not very nice, but frozen ones need time to defrost!), and reduce to a medium heat to simmer for 10 minutes, or until your tiny pieces of pasta are soft and swollen. Meanwhile, thoroughly rinse your beans, tip in and stir through. If you’re using fresh greens, chop them up into little pieces and stir them through to serve.
And voila – minestrone. Comforting, carby, beany goodness, perfect for popping in a jar or a flask to take to work. It freezes well, and actually improves in the freezer, so take one portion to work with you (or home, if you’re a homebody), and save the rest for later – and congratulate yourself on your hot, cheap lunch date. Hoorah.
Prices, as ever, are based on Sainsburys Basics range where available and Sainsburys own brand range where it’s not. Price information was correct at the time of publishing this recipe but pesky supermarkets change their prices all the time, and I have it on good authority that the other Big Four offer similar products in similar ranges at similar prices. And yes you have to buy a bottle of oil to get a tablespoon at that price, and a whole bulb of garlic, but you can keep them for your next cheap recipe. Boring disclaimer bit over.😀