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Hearty soup to honor a strong man

Lent is upon us, and I once again have that $64,000 question on my mind: What alternatives are there for dinner on a Friday other than the usual cardboard cheese pizza? I will say that I have been blessed to marry into a nice Italian family which came with bunches of meatless recipes. One in particular that immediately comes to mind is perfect for the month of March. It’s a “kill two birds with one stone” concoction that has you covered for both Lent and another important day that most of us don’t quite think of immediately: The Feast of Saint Joseph. Yes indeed, leave it to those Italians to have come up with a delicious ritual soup (among other recipes) to honor our beloved San Giuseppe on his feast day, March 19.

Italian soup and tradition aside, no one showed greater faithfulness and self-control than St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus. This was a man who didn’t give-in to worldly desires and passions. Rather, he fully submitted to the Lord by being a faithful husband to Mary. His feast day just happens to fall during Lent, a time when we all should practice our ultimate God-given self-control – which can sometimes be very difficult to do. Thanks to our secular conditioning, we are more proficient in saying “no” to authority and very reluctant in saying “no” to ourselves. What may help out is to look to St. Joseph as a rock-solid example of obedience and spiritual strength.

To honor such a man, enjoy this hearty minestrone-like soup recipe my mother-in-law was so gracious to share. It is her version of an age-old Italian recipe (Maccu di San Giuseppe), which is rooted in a custom of clearing out the pantry of leftover, dried harvest in the expectation of the new harvest to come. She makes it annually for her husband (who is coincidently named Joseph) on the actual feast day. “Saint Joseph’s Day Soup,” as she calls it, can remind us of the patient and self-sacrificing role model we have in Saint Joseph. It also provides a meatless dish that assists us in our Lenten sacrifice.

And thankfully, it tastes a great deal better than cardboard cheese pizza.

Directions:

Soak the dried beans the night before (following the package directions).

On the day of cooking, sauté the chopped onion and garlic in the olive oil in a medium to large stock pot. Add the rinsed beans and chickpeas, celery, carrots, potatoes and zucchini. Pour in water until it is 6-7 inches above the level of beans and vegetables. Give pot a quick stir and boil on a low to medium heat for about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to a gentle boil and add tomatoes, Swiss chard, parsley and vegetable soup base/bouillon (to taste) and salt and pepper (to taste). Finally, add approximately one cup of pasta (give or take, if you prefer) and continue to boil until vegetables and pasta are tender. Before serving, top with grated parmesan cheese and croutons for extra flavor.

Note: You can add, subtract or substitute beans and vegetables of your preference. Also, add more water (and adjust vegetable base accordingly), if you prefer soup with more broth or if you plan to eat it the next day (since it tends to thicken).

• 1 package of mixed soup beans (contains a variety)

• ½ cup canned chickpeas

• 1 package of Ditalini Pasta (Any small pasta shapes will work)

• 1 large onion (chopped)

• 2 cloves garlic (minced)

• 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 celery stalks, chopped

• 2 carrots, chopped

• ¾ cup diced potatoes

• ¾ cup zucchini, chopped (green and/or yellow)

• ¾ cup diced tomatoes (canned is fine)

• ¾ cup Swiss chard (roughly chopped)

• ¼ cup chopped parsley

• vegetable soup base or bouillon, to taste

• water

• salt and pepper, to taste