Fennel is like a dark-haired Sicilian woman in a white sun dress walking a country road, the sun setting into the Mediterranean behind her. Adding it to this dish helps create a depth that highlights all the other flavors and textures you find as you spoon your way through it.
Traditional minestrone starts with pancetta, a delicious Italian version of bacon. Unfortunately, it contains even more fat than bacon. For this lightened version, inspired by one by Michael Chiarello, I substituted Canadian bacon and used a light hand on the oil. Overall, minestrone is incredibly healthy, with loads of vegetables. For my Weight Watchers friends, at 10 1.5-cup servings, the soup works out to 3 points a bowl. Add some warm whole wheat baguette.
And don't think this is something the kids won't eat. Quinn, our 15-year-old picky eater, called it "yummylicious!"
4 oz uncooked ditalini pasta1 Tbsp olive oil
6 cups chicken broth (I used the turkey broth I made from our Thanksgiving carcass)4 oz Canadian-style bacon, diced
2 cups onion, finely diced
1 cup celery, finely diced
1 cup carrot, finely chopped
1 Tbsp thyme, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fennel seed, ground
6 cloves garlic, sliced
14 oz canned cannellini beans14 oz canned diced tomatoes
4 cups zucchini, small diced
1 cup potatoes, small diced
4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp table salt, to taste
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain and transfer the pasta to a bowl. Toss the pasta with a little (less than 1 teaspoon) olive oil to prevent sticking.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the chicken stock.
In another large saucepan over medium high heat, heat oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the Canadian bacon and cook until it begins to brown, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat to medium and add the onions, celery, and carrots. Cook until the vegetables are soft, stirring often to prevent browning. Add the herbs.
Raise the heat to high. Add the beans, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes and stock and bring to a boil. Then bring it down to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are done, 12 to 15 minutes, skimming any foam off the top of the soup.