Monday, January 11, 2010

Hiding the Veggies in Pasta e Fagioli

My six year-old daughter, henceforth referred to as BabyBella, is a horribly picky eater.  We've been through all the phases--only eating particular colors, insisting on only eating one kind of food for days on end then refusing to eat it at all the next week, refusing to eat food that touched another food--name it, we've been there.   These days, BabyBella's picky phase is refusing to eat any fruits or vegetables.  For obvious health and nutritional reasons, I can't accommodate this phase and have her not eat any fruits or vegetables. 

Luckily, although BabyBella won't eat vegetables, she and I have a deal--if she can't tell its a vegetable, she'll eat it.  That means things like tomato sauce, cornbread, spinach pasta, etc. are all totally OK with her. Thus, I've become talented at hiding fruits and vegetables in everything BabyBella eats.

I wasn't feeling particularly creative tonight but it is extremely chilly out and wanted comfort food, so I went with an old standby--Pasta e Fagioli.  Of course, I use the title loosely as it's not exactly the classic Italian soup recipe, but I've kept the general idea with a few modifications to accommodate my picky eater and make it a little bit more of a complete meal.

Recipe after the break...

Ingredients:
  • 32 oz low fat, low sodium chicken broth
  • 12 - 16 oz chicken breast (approximately two), trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 2 ribs of celery
  • 12 baby carrots (or you can use 1 regular carrot. I just always keep the small sized variety around for snacks)
  • 6 strips of turkey bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 oz) cannellini beans 
  • 2 tbl olive oil
  • 1 tbl minced garlic
  • 1 tbl dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Dash of crushed red pepper
  • 8 oz (1/2 box) Elbow macaroni or favorite pasta 
Directions: (30-40 minutes plus 5 minutes prep)

First things first, heat the olive oil in a large pot on medium to medium high. While the oil is heating, I turn to my trusty blender which was a gift from my aunt many years ago and, with BabyBella's food peculiarities, one of my best beloved appliances.  Drop all of the fresh veggies (onion, carrots, celery) into that bad boy with half a cup of chicken broth, puree until smooth, then add it to the pot.  Don't bother to rinse the blender yet--you'll need it in a few minutes.  The resulting mess looks something rather like baby puke.  Don't worry though, it'll get better.  I promise.

Stirring frequently, cook the mixture for about 5 minutes until its thickened.  Then, add the diced chicken, garlic, and bacon. Cook until the chicken is completely white on the outside, about 5 - 7 minutes.  See? Looking better already...sorta.
While the chicken and bacon are cooking, return to the blender and puree the diced tomatoes. I've also used fresh cherry tomatoes when I see nice ones on sale, but today I just used the ones in the can. 
Add the tomatoes, remaining herbs/spices (yes, I know fresh is better than dried, but I killed my herb garden which is a story for another day) to the pot with the remaining chicken broth.  Bring the pot to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. The addition of paprika is more for aesthetic than taste--notice how the vile baby puke color is now a nice deep orange. 

Finally, bring the pot back to a full boil and add the pasta and the beans--including the liquid in the can.  Don't worry if the liquid seems a little "grainy" and thin.  This is due to the pureed vegetables and the large amount of chicken broth.  The liquid from the beans as well as the pasta will cause the soup to thicken as it cooks and will smooth out the texture a bit. Simmer another 10 - 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the pasta is done, adding salt and pepper to taste. It is usually at this step that I skim off any oils that have floated to the top.
To serve, remove the pot from the heat, remove the bay leaf, then stir in the Parmesan cheese.  Dump it into a bowl, sprinkle a little more cheese on top and eat by itself or with a nice salad and crusty garlic bread.  Serves 4-6.
See?  I promised it'd get better.  YUM.

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