This recipe is tweaked from Tyler Florence's Hunter's Minestrone.
2 quarts chicken stock
5 garlic cloves
1/2 pound small rigatoni (Mezzi Rigatoni - Barilla makes it)
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 fresh sage leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 lbs. loose sweet Italian pork sausage
1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
2 cans cannelli beans (drained) or small Mexican white beans (drained)
1/2 bunch fresh parsley leaves, finely minced
1 zucchini, chopped
half a bag of baby fresh spinach
1 bay leaf
Coarsely ground black pepper
Locatelli or parmesan cheese for garnish
Combine the stock and 1 peeled garlic clove in a big saucepan and simmer for about 15minutes to give the stock a nice, garlicky taste. Set broth aside.
Meanwhile, 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. Discard the herbs.
Chop the carrots, celery, onion and the remaining 4 cloves of garlic in a food processor or by hand. Add to the saucepan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned. In a saute pan, add a small amount of olive oil and sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with the side of a big spoon until well browned. Strain sausage mixture and add to the vegetable mixture in large saucepan. Add the can of tomatoes, and cook for 5 minutes. Add bay leaf, broth and lots of coarsely ground pepper and simmer an add'l 10 minutes. Then add chopped zucchini, parsley and beans and simmer another 10 minutes.
Above all can be done ahead.
Prior to serving: Boil water for pasta. Cook Mezzi Rigatoni until al dente, about 6 minutes. The last minute of boiling add the fresh baby spinach. Drain pasta/spinach. Ladle soup into bowls, add pasta/spinach and garnish with fresh parlsey.
This makes plenty. Enough to freeze for future meals. Don't add the pasta/spinach to the leftovers when freezing or refrigerating as the pasta will soak up the broth. When defrosting and reheating in the future, boil more pasta, add spinach if desired. Add to soup in the bowls. This is great with fresh grated locatelli cheese sprinkled on top of the soup.
If you can't find mezzi rigatoni, any small pasta will do (i.e., ditallini, small shells, small elbows). You can also add any veggies/beans you like to this........it's a very hearty meal.