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Loads of veggies, creamy cannellini beans, and tender meatballs star in this classic Italian minestrone that would make Nona proud.


Italian minestrone with potatoes, carrots, white beans, kale, and meatballs
One-Pot Minestrone with Meatballs

Do you sometimes find solace in the kitchen? I do, and I experienced it again this week. It had been a particularly heavy couple of days. Something drew me into the kitchen because I had the need to take control of something, I guess. Like if you do “X” then “Y” will be the outcome. Sometimes chopping vegetables or making stock from scratch are the only things that make sense to me. And what came of all of this was an outstanding batch of minestrone.

 

Every Italian grandma has her spin on minestrone, varying vegetables, beans, or pastas used. Minestrone is a hug in a bowl and a satisfying meal. Pair with crusty bread and I’m one happy woman.

 

A bowl of minestrone is less than 200 calories, so for hearty lunch or a light dinner option, this is the soup you want. The little meatballs in this recipe added some calories to that, but still great at about 330 calories. Hearty soups have a place in our diets if we're trying to eat "lighter." I love the versatility of this one-pot minestrone; clear out your produce drawer and there’s dinner! If you want to go vegetarian, simply omit the meatballs; the beans provide protein.

 

There’s nothing better than something delicious simmering on a stove, so let’s get cooking.


To make One-Pot Minestrone with Meatballs, which yields at least six servings, you’ll need these ingredients:

  • 2 ounces pancetta or 3 strips bacon, chopped

  • 2 carrots, chopped

  • 6 small new potatoes, quartered

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 2 celery ribs, chopped

  • 3 whole garlic cloves, smashed

  • 12 ounces vegetable or chicken stock

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can tomatoes

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

  • 1 bunch (about 10 to 12 stems) lacinato kale

  • 2 tablespoons dried Italian herbs

  • 2 dry bay leaves

  • 8 frozen meatballs, thawed and quartered

  • Olive oil

  • Salt and pepper

  • Parmesan cheese (garnish)

Cannellini beans in white bowl, Hazel Lam-Canva photo

Now, beans and I have a precarious relationship. There are beans I detest (lima beans) and some I enjoy eating. I think it's a texture thing for me. Cannellini are on the very short list of beans I will eat. If you have a can of these in your pantry, great. But you also could swap a can of great northern beans. Some folks think the cannellini have a slightly thicker skin and hold up better in soups. I think cannellini beans have better flavor, but your choice.


Starting with rendering bacon or pancetta, while desirable, isn't required. I didn't have either in the refrigerator last week, but did have some bacon fat, which I used to start the soup's mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onion).


Directions for One-Pot Minestrone with Meatballs

Bring a large stockpot up to medium-high heat and add chopped pancetta or bacon. Allow fat to render and meat to just turn crisp. Remove pancetta or bacon from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towel.

 

Add about a tablespoon (a swirl around the pot) of olive oil and add carrots, celery, onion, and a pinch of salt. Allow vegetables to soften and onions to turn translucent (about 5 minutes). Add dried Italian spice mixture and stir into vegetables. Cook another minute until herbs become fragrant.

 

Stir in stock, potatoes, tomatoes, cannellini beans, and smashed garlic cloves. Add bay leaves, stir, cover and turn heat down to simmer to cook 30 minutes.

 

Strip kale leaves from stalks and coarsely chop greens. Stir into soup. Add meatballs. Cover and cook another 15 to 20 minutes until the kale has wilted and meatballs are heated through.

 

Serve in bowls and top with shaved Parmesan.

 

Notes for your kitchen

If you want to make this a vegetarian dish, swap the chicken stock for vegetable stock. Omit the meatballs or use your favorite vegetarian meatball in the recipe. If going vegetarian meatball route, though, I’d recommend heating/cooking these separately and then place on top of the soup bowl. You don’t want them to melt away stewing in the soup.

 

Escarole is often used when making minestrone. I love this green, but my store didn’t have it this week. Cooking escarole in soup helps tame the slight bitterness; it’s mild and delicious in minestrone while still maintaining some of its integrity.

 

Minestrone often has pasta. Smaller shapes—ditalini, orecchiette, small shells—work best, but my pantry was void. You easily could leave out the potatoes if using pasta in this recipe.



Did you know?

Some of the earliest origins of minestrone soup pre-date the founding of Rome. The diet of these ancient people was heavy on vegetables out of necessity and included onions, cabbage, carrots, turnips, as well as lentils and beans.

 

About the blog

Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.



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This delicious and hearty version of mac-and-cheese uses butternut squash for the sauce’s base and cuts out more than half the fat of traditional dish.


baked macaroni and cheese in white casserole topped with breadcrumbs on counter with succulent planter in background
Low-Fat Mac-and-Cheese with a butternut squash and cheese sauce

Mac-and-cheese is one of my Top 3 comfort foods. Recently, I attended a Lenten fish fry with some friends and naturally this was one of the side choices. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed it, but you don’t want to know the calorie and fat totals in the serving. (But I’m telling you anyway.)


According to the web site Nutritionix, our favorite homemade mac-and-cheese has 510 calories per cup, 39 grams of carbs, and 29 grams of total fat. A bechamel (flour, butter, and milk) usually is the base for that decadent cheese sauce that can include up to three different cheeses.

 

Realizing nutritionists and food bloggers for decades have tinkered with slimming down this dish, and the method most often used is substituting a pureed vegetable for that silky bechamel and cheese sauce.


For my Low-Fat Mac-and-Cheese, I tweaked a recipe from a thrifted Weight Watchers® cookbook to create a delicious and surprisingly rich cheese sauce that uses pureed butternut squash instead of the traditional bechamel. Now, before you say, “aw, hell no,” hear me out. Butternut squash has (as its name implies) a slightly sweet and nutty flavor, so you can cut out the oft-used gruyere cheese, as well as the milk, flour, and butter used to make the bechamel. Lighter Neufchatel cheese, which has 6.5 grams of fat (1 ounce) compared to cream cheese, which contains 10 grams, is a healthier swap; and toasty, flavorful breadcrumbs replace Parmesan cheese often used to top the baked casserole.

 

But let the numbers do the talking:

  • 295 calories in 1½ cups (Note you get an extra ½ cup here compared to the traditional mac.)

  • 9 grams total fat

  • 38 grams net carbs

 

To make Low-Fat Mac-and-Cheese, which yields six servings, you’ll need these ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

  • 1/3 cup panko-style breadcrumbs

  • ½ teaspoon granulated garlic

  • 1 (20-ounce) package peeled and cut butternut squash

  • ¾ cup chicken broth

  • 1 cup shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar

  • 2 tablespoons Neufchatel cheese

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

  • ¾ teaspoon salt

  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne

  • 2 cups elbow Mac or mini pasta of your choice

  • Non-stick cooking spray


Mac and cheese on white plate with white casserole on counter in background

Directions for Low-Fat Mac-and-Cheese

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add granulated garlic and panko. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the breadcrumbs achieve a nice golden color (about 4 minutes). Set aside.

 

Bring a stockpot of salted water to a boil. Add squash and cook for 15 minutes until vegetable is very tender. To test, remove a piece and place on a cutting board. If you can easily mash it with a fork, it’s done.

 

Combine broth, cheddar, light cream cheese, mustard, salt, and cayenne in a blender or food processor. Using a slotted spoon, transfer squash from stockpot to blender (or food processor) and puree. Be sure to leave water in the stockpot.

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a 10-inch baking casserole with non-stick.

 

When water is boiling again, add pasta and cook to al dente; I usually save 1 to 2 minutes off cook time on the package. Reserve a cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and return to stockpot.

 

Stir in puree and toss to coat pasta. If the sauce seems on the dry side, add the pasta water in increments until you achieve the consistency you like.

 

Spread pasta mixture in the pan. Top with crumbs and spray top with non-stick to aid in browning. Bake for 25 minutes.


Notes for your kitchen

If you want to make this a vegetarian dish, swap the chicken stock for vegetable stock. The sauce’s texture won’t be as silky as the traditional, but this wasn’t a problem for me. In fact, I think there’s much more flavor to this healthier version! And to reheat leftovers, add a little stock to the sauced pasta, cover, and place in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes.

 

Did you know?

The first modern recipe for macaroni and cheese was included in Elizabeth Raffald's 1769 book, The Experienced English Housekeeper. It was a hit in England and later Europe. James Hemings, a classically trained French chef enslaved by US president Thomas Jefferson was instrumental in bringing the recipe to the United States after Jefferson encountered it in Paris. Thank you Elizabeth and James!


I hope you'll try this mac-and-cheese recipe. It's great on its own or served alongside chicken, pork chops, beef, or fish.


Comfort food doesn’t have to be high-calorie and heavy on the stomach. It’s often food that ignites good memories, and this month, we’re exploring ways to do that without burning through your daily calories. Stay tuned because more healthy, comforting recipes are coming.

 

About the blog

Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.


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  • Writer's picturedeborahreinhardt

Sensible swaps like ground turkey, corn, and a light dressing update the calorie-heavy taco salad from the 1960s.


corn kernels, white rice, taco meat, chopped tomatoes and sliced radish on romaine lettuce leaves
Lightened-Up Taco Salad

Has March been a crazy month for you, too? It seems we haven’t shared a cup of coffee or tea and a recipe for a while! When you’re juggling a lot of balls, you need a recipe that’s quick and something everybody in the family will enjoy eating. You need this recipe for my Lightened-Up Taco Salad.  

 

This is a nice change of pace for your taco night at home. Inspired by those calorie-heavy taco salads that feature spicy ground beef, refried beans, mounds of cheese, sour cream, and a hint of a few green things layered up in a fried taco shell, this salad has way less calories but is equally delicious. Those salads in a fried shell can cost you 1,300 calories! But instead of a fried shell, my version uses corn to satisfies that comforting bite. Seasoned round turkey replaces the beef, and brown or white rice tells fattening fried beans buh-bye. We’re both busy, so let’s get cooking so you can have dinner ready tonight!


To make Lightened-Up Taco Salad, which yields 4 servings, you’ll need these ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

  • 1 pound ground skinless turkey

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 2 teaspoons taco seasoning

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

  • 1 cup cooked white or brown rice

  • 1 cup frozen corn, defrosted

  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered

  • 12 romaine leaves

  • 4 radishes

  • Fresh cilantro or parsley and lime wedges to garnish

 

Directions for Lightened-Up Taco Salad

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add taco seasoning to bloom the spices (about half a minute). Add onion and turkey. Cook, breaking turkey apart with a wooden spoon, for 4 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook another minute.

 

Add crushed tomatoes and salt; cook about 8 minutes until sauce thickens. Remove from heat.


To build the salad, place 3 clean and dry Romaine lettuce leaves on a plate. Mount a ¼ cup of the cooked rice on the end near the stems. Layer corn next to rice. Next, place turkey taco mixture on lettuce next to rice.

 

Top salad with chopped parsley, a sliced radish, and fresh tomatoes. Serve with lime wedge.

 

 

Notes for your kitchen

Instead of dollops of sour cream all over your salad, drizzle 2 tablespoons of low-fat ranch dressing that you’ve thinned with a tablespoon of lime juice. It suggests that creamy dairy finish without all the calories.

 

You also can make low-fat ranch dressing using Greek yogurt and lime juice. Here’s how:

Mix 1 teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon onion powder, pinch of salt, and 1½ teaspoons lime (or lemon) juice into ½ cup Greek yogurt. Stir to combine and add ½ teaspoon dried dill or parsley. If you have extra fresh parsley or cilantro from the salad, chop that fine and add to your dressing!

 

Did you know?

Taco salads became popular in Texas in the 1960s, and those likely were inspired by the Tacup, a food invention by Elmer Doolin, the Fritos founder, in the 1950s. Doolin even sold his Tacup dish at Disneyland in 1955, according to the Orange County Weekly.


I remember taco salad Tuesdays at the cafeteria where I worked. My friends and I got so excited on those days because chefs Al and Jerome made the classic salad with refried beans, the fried shell, beef, and all the trimmings. But I also remember feeling like a needed a nap after eating one of those! No wonder: I’d just consumed most of my day’s caloric intake at one meal!

 

By comparison, my Lightened-Up Taco Salad is 296 calories, so you won’t feel weighed down but still get all the flavor. If you want to spice the turkey up even more, add a couple teaspoons of adobo to the mixture.

 

Comfort food doesn’t have to be high-calorie and heavy on the stomach. It’s often food that ignites good memories, and this month, we’re exploring ways to do that without burning through your daily calories. Stay tuned because more healthy, comforting recipes are coming.

 

About the blog

Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.


author sipping mug of coffee with bio description

 

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