June 4, 2014

My minestrone…hearty and healthy.

What’s inspiring me this week? Seeing people load up on green vegetables and as many whole foods as possible at the supermarket. Unfortunately where I live in the Central West of New South Wales we have the highest rate of obesity in the state. This is not hard to believe when I see a mountain of packaged foods with little other than coca cola, chocolate, frosties, coco pops, chips and canned soups in sight at the check-out on many occasions.

Today, I do not want to bang on about budget meals, but let’s face it we all have weeks; some harder than others when we feel the squeeze and wonder “How am I going to put seven days of healthy meals on the table for X dollars?”

Well it’s possible, and one of the keys to eating well and in an affordable way learning to eat more sustainably…it will help you. I want to point out that I purposely have not mentioned buying organic on my list as this does not necessarily mean affordable at times.

1. Wastage – start now, by consuming everything you buy (or your best effort to); look at the back of your fridge daily and take a stock check!

2. Grow your own – even if you have a tiny garden plot or a few pots here or there; some herbs like parsley, thyme and rosemary and some kale will help you boost your food stocks and cost you little to nothing to start-up. If you avoid spraying pesticides on them and look for natural alternatives you have some organic food right there! Tip: Your friends might like to swap you some kale for potatoes, this can work well.

3. Shop local – buy as much in-season produce as you can; shop around from your local farmers’ markets to your local grocer to get a good price. There is always usually a discounted produce shelf or rack available too.

4. Balance – make food from scratch and if you do buy an item which is a little more than average, think about how you can make it stretch or balance with other inexpensive ingredients. You will be proud of yourself for achieving great tasting food that costs much less than convenience foods.

5. Eat less meat and dairy – if you’re like me, you don’t want to give it up entirely. Shop for and consume the most ethically sourced grass-fed, GMO-Free, Free range beef to minimize the harm to environment. Respect it like a treat in your weekly food menu, rather than buying a big hunk of who knows what from where. You’ll enjoy your smaller portion more as it likely will taste better coming from a happier farm.

6. Eat less or no processed foods! This one should be a no brainer, though all the marketing is alluring to families who sometimes see that as a quick solution ‘all in one meal’ for $X…but you are paying for the convenience; the packaging, all the added preservatives and transportation.


This week, I scrounge around to see what is in my pantry, on my fridge shelves and what I might be able to add that won’t break the bank. This minestrone is a filling meal and shouldn’t cost more than $2.50 per serving. There is absolutely no excuses to buy the “4 for $3 deal” packaged minestrone soups that are full of flavour enhancers and preservatives and doesn’t even come close to rivaling my minestrone. You will yield way more with this soup. It is by no means an original recipe, however after eating loads of minestrone over the years, this is my fine tuned version and it has to be done heading into winter when we want hearty warm meals. It’s also another winner with the kids!

Tip: It is wonderful and too easy to use a slow cooker (will cost you $39.95 from Big W or less) over 4-6 hours, although large soup pot works just as well. Also for babies over 8-10 months, just blend the soup mix and add some cooked risoni and cannellini beans at the end for texture.

Minestrone soup (Serves 6)


1 local smoked ham hock

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 brown onion finely diced

1 zucchini chopped into small pieces

2 carrots chopped into small pieces

2 celery sticks chopped into small pieces

2 potatoes chopped into small cubes

2 garlic cloves crushed

1 zucchini chopped into small pieces

3 tablespoons herbs; fresh oregano, thyme and rosemary finely chopped work well or you could use some dry ones.

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 x 400 gm cans of finely chopped tomatoes

1 litre of home made vegetable broth (defrost slightly if frozen)

1/2 litre water

1 400 gm can of cannellini beans rinsed (or alternatively soak dry beans overnight)

1 cup risoni (or any small pasta you might have on your shelf)

There is plenty of flavour in this soup, although here are some optional extras you could try too;

Parmesan cheese – this is just about the only product which is always in my fridge and not a locally produced product.

Parsley chopped – I love it and we have an abundance paying its dividends in the garden.

Kale leaves – a few of these with stems removed thrown in right at the end is lovely and fresh.


1. Using a frying pan, add the olive oil on a low to medium heat the throw in the onions and carrots for just a few minutes to soften and then remove.

2. Add the onion, carrots, celery, potato, zucchini, garlic and herbs to the slow cooker or a big soup pot and place ham hock on top.

3. In a slow cooker on the low setting, pour in tomatoes, stock/broth and water leaving to cook for four hours with lid on. Alternatively in a large deep soup pot, bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer for 3-4 hours.

4. Remove ham hock and discard the fat and bone, and add pieces of tender meat chopped roughly back into pot. Add the cannellini beans and risoni for a further 20-30 minutes until pasta is cooked. This is the perfect time to thrown in your kale too, right at the end in the last few minutes!

(If you are using for baby food as well, you might like to boil risoni separately in pot of water for 10-15 minutes.

5. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and fresh parsley on top if desired.












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