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Hearty Minestrone (from a certain FN chef)

2 quarts chicken stock
1 head garlic, halved
1/2 # small rigatoni
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 fresh sage leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
3/4 pound loose sweet Italian pork sausage
2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 (28-ounce) can crushed plum tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 15-oz can cannelloni or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 bunch fresh parsley leaves, finely minced
Coarsely ground black pepper
12 slices baguette
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

-Combine the stock and halved garlic head in a big saucepan and simmer for about 15 minutes to give the stock a nice, garlicky taste; strain out the garlic. Keep warm.
-Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the rigatoni.
-Pour 1/4 cup olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the sage, rosemary and thyme and warm the oil over medium heat to infuse it with the flavor of the herbs, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with the side of a big spoon until well browned. -Chop the carrots, celery, and onion in a food processor. Add to the saucepan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.
-To the pan with the sausage stir in the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, cannelloni beans, and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
-Cook the rigatoni in the boiling water for 6 minutes; it should be slightly underdone. Drain and stir into the simmering soup. Add the parsley, and salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste. Discard the bay leaf and herb sprigs.
-To serve, preheat the broiler. Put the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano and broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown, about 2 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and float a couple of the baguette slices on top.

RECIPE NOTES: For the chicken stock, I used about a half a head of garlic and took off the paper, smashing the cloves with my knife to release the flavor. The result was such a delicious garlic infusion. I only poured in 1 1/2 qts of broth too; this should be a thick soup, and along with the tomato puree, the 2 qts was too much. I used mild italian sausage because the meat counter at the grocer had it in bulk and I could buy exactly what I needed. In addition to the fresh herbs in the oil, I added a handful of chopped celery leaves because I just love that flavor. I used extra carrots too.

The 15 minute simmer time once all the ingredients are together doesn’t seem like enough, and I think I would go an extra 15 next time I make it. The vegetables were still super crispy after 15 min, and my preference is to have them slightly softer. I also thought it could have used more time to build its flavor, even though it tasted really wonderful. The parmesan croutons were delicious; they broiled super fast though, so watch carefully. I set off our smoke detector (hehehe). A really crusty loaf makes for a perfect boat in this broth.

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