Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Slow Cooker Minestrone for Busy Mums

Since becoming a Mum I have personally found it quite hard to balance meals between being quick and easy to prepare, and being nutritious enough for a busy growing family.  I have always worked as well, so tend to lack the energy and motivation to cook fancy dishes with lots of steps in them (ok - I am a gigantic fan of one pot dishes).  With the cooler weather just starting, I thought I would share with you one of our favorite meals.  There are many reasons I love minestrone - its healthy and good for you, its easy to make, its really yummy, you can customise it to suit your family, and it's also a great excuse to clean out the vegie drawer and use up any vegies that you might otherwise throw out.  The proportions of ingredients don't really matter, you can add some water as its cooking if it gets too dry.

The minestrone I make consists of steps more than a set recipe, and the main ingredients must include beans, vegies, liquid, and pasta.  So, here is my recipe, or rather my guide to the steps in making minestrone.  Ideally put this on fairly early in the morning.

Start by putting your choice of beans in the bottom of the slow cooker.  If this is a spur of the moment recipe I will use a drained can of red kidney beans or 4 bean mix (or any other type of bean you like).  If you are planning ahead, you can soak some dry soup mix beans overnight, then the next morning just rinse them well and add to the slow cooker.

Here is the fun bit.  Clean out your vegie draw, chop everything in small pieces, and chuck it in the slow cooker.  The more variety, the better.  Some suggestions include - potato, pumpkin, sweet potato, onion, garlic, zucchini, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, celery, cabbage, capsicum, etc.  Add a nice sprinkle of fresh or dry herbs.

I generally add a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes and some chicken stock, then top up to nearly the top of the slow cooker with water.  If you have no tinned tomatoes, a jar of tomato based pasta sauce and/or tomato paste and/or peeled fresh tomatoes will work just as well.  (Tip - If you see tomatoes on special, buy a heap and stick them straight in the freezer.  To use, just take straight out the freezer and the skin will rub straight off.  You can chuck them frozen whole and peeled like this straight in the slow cooker, just chop them up later in the day when they have cooked through).

Then stick the lid on and cook on low all day.  If you don't put this on until lunchtime be sure to set it on high.   Stir a couple of times during the day, if you are home.

A little while before serving time, cook your pasta separately, then stir into the minestrone.  About 1/2 - 1 cup dry pasta should be enough.  If you don't have any small pasta like macaroni, just break some spaghetti into small pieces.

To Serve
If you have small children (or a husband) that might turn their noses up at this, disguise it by sprinkling on lots of parmesan cheese and bacon bits, and add a dollop of sour cream.  For a baby, blend to desired consistency.  Serve with fresh crusty bread or toast.

This amount of minestrone is generally enough for our family for 3 meals (two fresh, one in the freezer) and 3-4 individual serves to freeze.  Great for families with a new baby!

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