Tuscan Bean Stew

This year was definitely the exception to pumpkin spice weather, with the mild temperatures carrying us into November it was as if mother nature skipped autumn and went straight to winter. Now that the cool, crisp air is finally upon us, this traditional Tuscan bean soup will help you warm up on a cool day. It’s perfect for a Sunday where you can let it simmer in the crock pot all day while you cozy up with your kids and read a good book. My memories of childhood somehow always bring me back to the scents permeating through mom’s kitchen, especially around the holidays.

The holidays are often a time when people feel stressed, overwhelmed and frustrated with traveling, losing your sense of routine, and can be even more draining for those who choose plant-based foods as they navigate all the “tofurky” jokes. Whether you’re the “token vegan” in your family or new to the plant-based movement, here are a few tips to keep your healthy lifestyle in check this holiday season:

1. Plan ahead to ditch the guilt: Don’t let what is or is not on your plate worry you when you’re a guest at someone’s holiday dinner. If you have recently decided to become vegetarian, let your hostess know in advance that while she doesn’t need to change her menu on your account, that she shouldn’t be offended if you don’t reach for the main course.

2. If something unhealthy is not one of your absolute favorite foods, don’t put it on your plate. This is actually very simple, but sometime’s we’re inclined to take a scoop just because it’s passed to us. Choose more of the vegetables and less of the processed foods.

3. Don’t buy junk food. This works for kids too, if you don’t buy it, they can’t eat it. Remember, you’re in control of what you buy at the grocery store, so never go shopping hungry and always load up on the extra vegetables.

4. Maintain your fitness routine or start a new one. There is no better time than the present and even if you’ve gotten off track, make a commitment to get focused. You’ll feel less stress and more endorphins as a result.

5. Swap alcoholic beverages with an alternate choice such as sparking water. You’ll save both calories and headaches.

6. The holidays are about gratitude, so focus on how thankful you are for your family, your health, time off work, and whatever makes you happy.

This soup is almost effortless, especially if you use canned beans. The beans make it thick and unbelievably velvety without the added bellyache that heavily creamed soups can sometimes give. Once your veggies are roasted, let the blender do half the work and you’ll have a hearty and versatile soup ready to eat or freeze.

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium vidalia onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium squash, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 cups vegetable broth
1 (14 ounce) can of cannellini beans or small white beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14 ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes with juices
2-3 cups chopped spinach or kale, ribs removed
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc
fresh rosemary sprig for garnish
Reggiano Parmigiano cheese for garnish
Toasted French baguette (slice on an angle) for serving

I like to throw all these ingredients into my crock pot for 4-6 hours, but to make it quicker, sauté the veggies on medium heat for about 15 minutes and then add to a pot for another half hour of cooking time. For a thicker soup, take about 1 cup of the cooked veggies and puree in a blender before adding to the soup.

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