Back when I was working my way through college, I had a job where I made soup in 10- and 20-gallon vats instead of home-sized pots. I learned some valuable lessons over that hot stove. One that I only had to learn once involved minestrone.
You see, once upon a time, I made a lovely big batch of soup, and stirred some macaroni into the pot. The next morning, it was reheated and placed in the serving crock. By lunchtime, to my horror, the soup had the texture of a vegetable-studded paste. All the pasta had dissolved, returning to its original form: flour and water.
It was a painful way to learn that pasta and soup require special handling.
It turns out that Italian restaurants have this pasta thing down to a science. It all revolves around partially cooking the pasta and finishing it with a few minutes of cooking just before serving. It’s a restaurant trick that you can use at home, especially if you plan to eat your soup over the course of a few days. Just cook the rotini a minute less than the package directs, toss it with a little olive oil, and store it separately. Then you just stir it into each serving and finish in the simmering soup.
There’s another trick in the making of this soup. If you’re a Parmesan lover, you should save the rinds after all the cheese has been shaved away. Simply wrap and freeze it. Then you can add them to the simmering vegetable stock for an instant hit of deep umami flavor. It really dresses up boxed stock. Vegans can accomplish a similar upgrade by adding a few dried mushrooms. It doesn’t add any time to the total cooking time, if you pour the stock into a pot and simmer it while you sauté onions and chop veggies.
Of course, you can change up the vegetables to suit your tastes, or use up the contents of your vegetable drawer. The onions, carrot and tomatoes should stay constant, but you can always switch in chopped green beans, frozen peas, even asparagus for the zucchini. Kale is sturdy and great in soup, but Swiss chard, collards, arugula or spinach can give you some greenery, too.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan” and “Plant-Based Meats.” Find her at robinasbell.com.