It seems that spring may finally have sprung! Maybe? Hopefully?! And in the spring, I love to put my slow cooker to good use... making soup! I know, I know. That seems totally wrong, right?! Soup is supposed to be a winter staple. Here in New England, there's still a chill in the air... but we are enjoying the end of winter hibernation. This results in us pushing our outside time as late as possible, making it really nice to be able to come inside and dish up dinner. Aside from the cooking method this soup employs, it has two other things going for it... the fact that it's meat-free (meatless Mondays anyone?!) and the ingredients can be pantry staples if you so choose. Win-win-win in my book!

Of course, the biggest win is that everyone loves this meal in our house. We serve it with bread on the side (usually an Italian baguette or ciabatta bread) and topped with Parmesan cheese.

Pasta e Fagioli ... Slow Cooker Style

Ingredients:

2 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 [generous] cup sliced celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 T minced garlic
1 tsp. Italian Herb Blend (Any brand/type of "mixed" Italian herbs will work)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 15 oz. cans small red beans, rinsed and drained
32 oz. vegetable broth
8 oz. can tomato sauce
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Parmesan rind (optional, but does add wonderful flavor to the soup)
3/4 cup Orzo Pasta (or substitute for your small noodle of choice.)
2 T good quality balsamic vinegar

For serving (all are optional):
freshly grated parmesan cheese
parsley
baguettes or bread

Directions:

1. Heat olive oil and saute the onions until they start to soften, about 4 minutes.  Add the celery and carrots and cook 3-4 minutes more. Add the minced garlic, Italian Herb Blend, and red pepper flakes and cook about a minute more.  Transfer to slow cooker.

2. Place the beans in a colander and rinse well with cold water, until no more foam appears.  Add to slow cooker.

3. Add the vegetable broth, tomato sauce, salt, and fresh ground black pepper to the slow cooker. (Along with the Parmesan rinds if using.)

4. Cook on high for 3-4 hours, or low for 6-7 hours.

5. Add the orzo (or pasta of your choosing) and cook about 30-40 minutes more.  (Until pasta is done.) Remove the Parmesan rinds if you used them, and stir in the balsamic vinegar.

6. Dish it up and dig in!

Recipe adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen.