(Click here for printable recipe.)
1. Chop up a slice of bacon into little bits and cook in your favorite dutch oven. Remove when cooked.
2. Add a diced onion to cook until it begins to change color, then add a clove of minced garlic for 30 seconds, then two chopped carrots.
3. Add one large can of crushed or diced tomatoes, at least two cups of chicken stock (surely you have some of this in your freezer by now), a squeeze of tomato paste (buy it in the toothpaste tube and keep it in the fridge...you won't be sorry and can use it in anything that you want to give a richer flavor to).
4. Add a can of rinsed white kidney beans (cannelini beans).
5. Put in a couple of handfuls of frozen chopped spinach (right out of the bag).
6. Add a few pieces of Parmesan rind.
*I buy Parmesan by the wedge at Costco...it's around $16 and will last you a few months. It's BAR NONE better than the canned stuff, and gives whatever you put it on better flavor, which means you will feel more satisfied and won't have to use as much food or as much meat to feel satisfied. You just grate it down as you need it and the very end is the rind and is brilliant in this soup. And if you aren't down to the rind, you can just chop a piece of the rind out from the cheese so you don't have to wait forever to make this soup. And lest I let a perfectly good recipe go without some snark: on the bottom of the Food Network version there was a comment made where the weekend warrior "cook" asked where they could find Parmesan rind. And (this is the best part) it was answered with the following comment: "You can buy it at Whole Foods in the deli section!"
Here's a thought. Buy a wedge of Parmesan cheese. IT COMES WITH A RIND AND YOU GET CHEESE WITH IT.
7. Let this simmer for at least an hour. I typically make this in the dutch oven, but I think it would translate well into crock pot city. You can also add some pasta and have a heck of a soup, but the pasta won't keep well for future servings as it gets really soggy later. So, if you'd like pasta (which is a good way to make it more filling), heat up your leftovers, then add the pasta and cook it per meal.
garlic and onion: $1.00
chicken stock: freebie
frozen spinach: $.48
tomato paste: $.10
Parmesan rind: freebie unless you're an idiot
So this soup gives you $3.75 for about 8 servings, $.47 per serving. If you're bored of the old french bread routine you can slice the bread up, spread some butter or olive oil on the slices, broil them until they're crispy, and when you pull them out, take a garlic clove you've sliced in half and rub it all over the browned surface. This will give a good garlic bite, and you can dip it or float it on top of the soup and it will be delicious!