Apparently it is written somewhere in the Bylaws of Childhood that one must be a hater of vegetables. Green things--ew! Orange things--yuck! Purple things--weird!
Perhaps that handbook was passed out in Cub Scouts or Sunday School or a D.A.R.E. assembly, because my kids never seemed to get a copy. (Fisher had a personal problem with asparagus for a while, but, fortunately, he seems to have gotten over it.) Last night we had two young friends as overnight guests, and I guess they must have missed that memo too--they ate this soup right up without complaint. No requests for seconds, but I think that was probably more due to their having eaten roughly 37 Parmesan-garlic cheese straws each (honestly, the four kids managed to devour two whole batches between them) before dinner time.
Admittedly, this was a little bit of a funky greenish-brown. Also admittedly, my hopes were not super-high for it... until I tasted it, with a bit of garlic toast dunked in, and then I was perfectly happy to sit back and eat my veggies and watch The Wire. (No, not with the kids. They were watching School of Rock upstairs. Importance of family dinner be damned--there was quality television at stake!)
I would definitely recommend cooking the beans from dried for this soup, rather than using their pallid cousins from a can. Make a big batch and you'll have plenty to last the week--and they take only an hour or so to cook, max, so it's not like you're making a huge time commitment up front. Pull them off the heat when they're just tender so they won't fall to pieces in the soup.
White Bean, Spinach and Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Serves eight to ten, probably
2 Tbsp olive oil
One good-sized onion, diced
4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
6 to 8 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I used veggie Better than Bouillon, which is better than canned veggie broth [ecch] but not quite as good as either homemade veggie broth or chicken Better than Bouillon.)
3 cups cooked small white (navy) beans
1 ten-ounce package frozen spinach OR about 6 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
2 red, orange or yellow bell peppers, roasted, peeled and diced*
4 or 5 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1 to 2 tsp hot sauce (Drunken Angel!)
1/2 cup half-and-half or cream (optional, but nice)
Salt and pepper to taste
Several leaves fresh basil, sliced into very thin ribbons
Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat; add the onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender/translucent, about 7 minutes. Add garlic; cook and stir one minute more.
Add vegetable broth, beans, spinach, peppers, parsley, bay leaves and salt. Bring to a boil; cover; reduce heat; simmer, stirring occasionally to break up spinach, until everything is cooked through and flavors are, if not married, at least decently engaged.
Partially puree soup with an immersion blender (or by scooping out one-third to one-half of it, pureeing it in a blender or food processor, then stirring it back into the pot). Don't forget to take the bay leaves (and maybe the parsley) out first. I forgot I used two bay leaves and ended up having to warn everybody to watch out for partially-liquefied throat-scratching seasonings.
Add hot sauce and cream; heat through very gently; taste and correct seasoning. Sprinkle each soup with basil (and maybe a little grated Parmesan, if you're so inclined) and serve forth, accompanied by chunky slices of garlic toast.
* To roast the peppers: Preheat your broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the peppers on the baking sheet, slide it into the oven and broil away. Check every few minutes; when the peppers are nice and blackened and blistered on the top, turn them carefully, using tongs, 90 degrees and return to heat. Repeat until peppers are well-roasted all the way around (blackness is your friend here). Take peppers out and immediately pop them into a paper bag. Fold down the top of the paper bag to close and let the peppers steam 10 minutes or so to further loosen the skins. Remove when just cool enough to handle; pull skins off with your fingers; cut out cores, seed (if you like) and chop.