Soups have a long and rich culinary history that spans the globe. From the extraordinary Asian noodle soups, to the complex bouillions and stocks of France, to the vegetable rich offerings from Italy and the rest of Europe, no other dish speaks so well of love and home. A good homemade soup is the ultimate comfort food we crave when we get a cold or just miss our family–but can also be used to spice up our normal meals.

Though a good soup can taste incredibly complex, they truly are very simple to make. This doesn’t mean that soup can’t be used as a main course for a fancy meal, either. One of my favorites is based on the Italian minestrone soups. Preparing this for simmering just takes minutes, yet it tastes as if you spent hours slaving over a hot stove. Served with a big fresh platter of antipasti, some hearty sourdough or garlic bread, and a rich dessert, this makes a memorable family meal any time of year.

Always use a good vegetable or beef stock for your homemade soups. Since it is the foundation of the soups palate, the flavour and colour of the stock are very important. Fortunately there are now some truly excellent prepared stocks available. After much trialing, I find that Wolfgang Pucks Beef Stock is the best for my needs. It is both rich and savory, plus it is deeply complex and has a lovely deep rich colour. Kitchen Basics Vegetable stock is both fragrant, hefty and possesses good flavour and colour.

I start my zuppa (soup) by heating 3 tablespoonful of extra virgin olive oil in my stockpot. I add 2 medium white onions fairly finely chopped, along with 4 carrots cut in 1 inch pieces, 2 very large potatoes, peeled and diced, and 2 bunches each of both young spinach and chard. You can chop these coarsely, as they’ll cook down quickly. Once the onions have softened and turned translucent, I add 2 14 oz. cans of diced tomatoes. For our family, I use the ones that have jalapeno added to kick this soup up a bit. Stir this in and add about 2 tbsp. of sugar, a good shake of kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper.

Add 2-3 (32 ounce) boxes of vegetable stock, along with 1/2 C of elbow macaroni. Turn heat on high and bring to a boil, once it’s boiling, reduce the heat to simmer, and begin adjusting seasonings. I always add my garlic after the heat is down, so there is no burning or scorching, which makes garlic bitter. I grate fresh ginger , about a Tbsp., and stir everything in thoroughly. Pop on the lid, and let it simmer 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally, and adding more stock if needed.

When ready to serve, remove the lid, bring it back up to a boil, then remove from the heat. We serve this in big deep bowls, along with a fresh dusting of good Parmesan or asiago cheese.

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