Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Tuscan Bean Soup

print recipe card posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces by Kathy Maister

If you are just learning to cook, making a nice hearty pot of soup is a great way to develop confidence in the kitchen and end up with a fantastic dinner as well! Soups are very forgiving. If you don’t have the exact ingredient on hand, you can often make a substitution or two, and it doesn’t matter if your chopping is uneven.

The fresh ingredients you will need for this recipe are onion, baby spinach, garlic, carrot, celery, fresh rosemary, thyme and basil.

I would not advise using dried herbs with this recipe. FRESH thyme, rosemary, and basil make a big difference in the taste of this soup.

Fresh Thyme, Rosemary and Basil

From your food cupboard (or the grocery store) you will need three kinds of beans, vegetable or chicken broth, olive oil, and canned diced tomatoes. Either plain or seasoned diced tomatoes will be fine.

(Broth is the strained liquid left from cooking vegetables, meat, or fish in water. It is often used as a synonym for bullion. Stock is basically the same thing but cooked more slowly and has a more intense flavor than broth. Bullion cubes or granules are compressed stock that needs to be dissolved before using.)

As always, get all your ingredients prepared and measured before you turn on the stove!

Preparing the Ingredients:

Carrots – Dice (or chop into small pieces) two carrots, which will yield about 1 cup. It is easier to dice a carrot if you cut the carrot so that it has a flat surface. The picture below shows the stages (left to right) I use to turn a whole carrot into a diced carrot.

Celery – Dice two stalks of celery. As with the carrot, first cutting the celery into strips will make dicing the celery easier.

Onion – 1 large onion will yield approximately 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups of diced onions. For a quick review on how to dice and onion, click here. To make dicing easier, be sure to leave the root end intact.

Garlic – To make two teaspoons of crushed garlic, you will need approximately 2-3 garlic cloves.

The Herbs

Rosemary, thyme and basil leaves need to be removed form their stems and finely chopped. (The pictures below show, from left to right, the stages of preparing the herbs from the way you get them in the store to the way you use them in the recipe.)

Here’s the rosemary:

Now, the thyme.

From left to right below, you can see the fresh thyme, the stems with the leaves removed, the whole leaves and the chopped leaves. (Throw the stems away!)

Finally, the basil. Jon, from the comment section, points out a quick tip for cutting the basil into ribbons. After you have washed the leaves put a pile one on top of another and then roll them up from tip to toe until you have a fat cigar of basil. It’s then easy to slice across the roll getting you nice slice. This is called a “chiffonade”. Again, just throw the stems away.

After you have rinsed and drained all the beans in a colander, all the ingredients will be prepared.

Cooking the Soup

Using a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers (about 1 minute.)

Add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic and cook these vegetables for about 3-to-4 minutes.

Add the can of diced tomatoes. (The tomatoes I used were in a puree but just a can of plain diced tomatoes works fine as well.)

Add the beans…

…and the broth…

…and the herbs.

Give everything a stir…

…and cover the pot.

Bring everything to a boil, and then turn the heat down to simmer. Cook the soup on “simmer” (a very low temperature) for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Add the baby spinach to the top of the soup. (Even “Pre-washed” spinach should get washed before using. You can wash the baby spinach leaves the same way you wash lettuce.)

It will take about one minute for the baby spinach to wilt (go all limp).

This Tuscan Bean Soup is ready to serve!

The flavors in this soup really develop in time. You can make this the day before serving it and it will taste even better by the next day! If you are going to be making the soup in advance, add the baby spinach just before you serve it so that it retains that nice bright green color.


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Bean Salad Tex-Mex Style

print recipe card posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces, Vegetarian by Kathy Maister

This cold bean salad tastes as good as it looks!

The ingredient list, may look kind of long at first glance, but chances are you just might have most of the ingredients for the dressing already in your cupboard! (Olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt, garlic, cumin, and black pepper)

Dressing Ingredients

That just leaves buying the canned beans and corn, bell peppers, and red onion.

Start by rinsing and draining all the beans and the canned corn in a colander.

Then chop the red and green bell peppers, and mince the red onion. (My Vegetable and Dip video will show you how to cut and clean the peppers. Once they are cut into strips, it is just a matter of then lining them up and chopping them up.


Mix together the beans, corn, chopped peppers, and minced onions in a large bowl.

Now for the dressing:

In a medium bowl, whisk together:

Notice how I used one measuring cup to measure both the oil and vinegar together. Saves on clean-up!

Be sure to use fresh lemon juice.

You will only need about 1 teaspoon of fresh crushed garlic.


Garlic – Sliced, Minced, and Crushed

The photo below shows all the dressing ingredients whisked together. Feel free to add a few drops of hot sauce if you like.

Now pour the dressing over the bean mixture.

Mix everything together.

Cilantro is another optional ingredient, often found in Tex-Mex dishes. If you like cilantro, add 1/4 cup – minced to the salad. (You can wash and chop it as you would parsley.) Cilantro has a very distinctive flavor and aroma which people either love or hate! 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro is just enough. A great substitution for cilantro is actually a combination of parsley and mint.

Parsley, Cilantro, and Mint

You may be thinking there is way too much dressing for this salad.

However, the bean salad needs to marinate in the dressing for a couple of hours (in the refrigerator) for all the flavors to meld together. Be sure to cover this salad with plastic wrap and let it chill completely before serving. If there are any leftovers, drain off the excess dressing and store the bean salad in the refrigerator. It will keep for about two days!


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Spaghetti Squash

print recipe card posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces by Kathy Maister

There are many varieties of squash available at the grocery store and farm stands. Spaghetti squash, also know as calabash squash or vegetable spaghetti, is really quite unique because when cooked looks like thin translucent strands of thin spaghetti. It has a mild, delicate flavor somewhat like that of yellow summer squash and watery texture.

Spaghetti squash has a rounded shape and can vary in weight and size. The ones I bought weighed almost four pounds and were about 9 inches long.

When you buy spaghetti squash, it should have a nice lemon yellow color. If it is green it means that it is under ripe.

Washing and Cleaning Spaghetti Squash

Begin by washing the squash with a vegetable brush under running water.

Dry it well so that it does not slip when you are cutting into the squash.

To cut spaghetti squash you need a big, heavy kitchen knife. Cut the squash in half, lengthwise.

Cutting the squash is the most difficult part of preparing the squash! It is like making that first cut into a melon, which can be tricky if you are not using a knife that can handle the task.

Once open, you can see there are seeds and stringy bits that need to get removed. (Just like with butternut squash or pumpkins.)

Using a spoon, scrape away the seeds and stringy bits….

…until the inside is clean.

Cooking Spaghetti Squash

I’m going to show you how to roast spaghetti squash in the oven and also how to cook it in the microwave. Normally these two cooking methods provide very different results. Roasting vegetables often makes them crispy and brings out their natural sweetness. Surprisingly enough, there is virtually no difference in the taste or texture when spaghetti squash is cooked in the oven vs. the microwave!

Oven Method:

Preheat the oven to 400º F ( = 200º C = gas mark 6-moderately hot.)

Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on cut side of the squash and rub it around with your fingers.

Sprinkle on some salt and pepper.

Place the squash, cut side down in an oven-proof dish.

Depending on the size of your squash, it will take approximately 35-45 minutes to get tender.

Microwave Method:

Place the squash in a microwave-safe dish…

…cut side down.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap…

…being sure to leave a steam vent.

Cook the squash on high for approximately 7-10 minutes – depending on the size of your squash and how powerful your microwave is. If you do not have an automatic turntable in your microwave, give the dish a turn every 3 minutes to ensure even cooking.

Remove the plastic wrap with a pair of tongs and be very careful of the built up steam.

Note: I do not recommend cooking the squash WHOLE in the microwave. Some recipes have you pierce the whole squash about 20 or 30 times with a knife (so the squash does not explode in the microwave). Then stick it in the microwave whole. It is very difficult to cut and remove the seeds and stringy bits from a steaming hot squash.

How to Make the Squash Look Like Spaghetti

Once you have removed the squash from the oven or microwave, check to see if it is cooked by sticking a knife into it. The knife should slide in easily.

If you have over cooked the squash it will taste fine but the texture will be creamy and you will not be able to make the spaghetti like strands.

Flip the squash over with a spatula so that the cut side is facing up. (Be careful as it will be very hot!)

The above photo is of the oven roasted squash

Using a dinner fork, scrape the flesh of the squash….

…moving gently around the shell….

…fluffing up the strands of squash.

Turning the squash into spaghetti strands takes about 10 seconds!

You can then serve the squash as is or remove it to a serving plate. It will be very hot so hold the squash in a dish cloth so you don’t burn your hand.

The above photo is of the microwave cooked squash

Decision time! What do I now do with this squash?

You can eat it as is or dress it up with your favorite spaghetti sauce.

I like to add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a drizzle of basil infused olive oil, and some salt and pepper!


P.S. Just for the heck of it, I tried freezing the leftover spaghetti squash. WRONG! It turned into spaghetti squash mush. It tasted fine but the spaghetti texture did not hold up at all!

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