1 1/2 cups assorted dried beans (I like kidney, big lima, chickpeas, pinto- use what you've got)
1 bay leaf
2 rinds from pieces of Parmesan cheese (more or less)
7 cups vegetable stock
1 tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp dry thyme
1 tsp dry savory (or marjoram if you don't have savory)
14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
2 zucchini, sliced into rounds or half rounds as you prefer
1 small bunch beet greens, kale, spinach or what you like, sliced into thin short strips
1/2 cup orzo or other small soup pasta- OPTIONAL
2 Tbsp. fresh or frozen pesto -OPTIONAL
Soak beans overnight or at least 6 hours in water to cover by 2 inches. Drain well and add to a medium-large pot; add the broth, cheese ends and bay leaf and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off but keep handy.
Meanwhile, in a larger (6-7 quart) pot, heat olive oil over med-high heat. Saute carrot, onion and celery for 4-5 minutes until beginning to brown. Add garlic, thyme and savory; stir one minute. Add the beans in the Parmesan broth to the pot along with the tomatoes & oregano; bring back to a boil. Reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Add sliced zucchini and greens; cook until greens are almost tender, maybe 5 minutes or so, depending on the green. Add the pasta at the appropriate time to cook per package directions, and serve.
If you have leftover or frozen pesto cubes, adding 2 or 3 right before serving is nice. Don't forget to remove the bay leaf. The cheese rinds should be soft enough now to cut into smaller chunks if you like to eat them (we do!)
I always keep the rinds from wedges to Parmesan in the back of the cheese drawer, wrapped in plastic with a rubber band, waiting to make this soup. The Parmesan adds a richness and depth of flavor that is otherwise unattainable without meat stock. The cheese is very tasty to eat after it's been cooked so long.
The last time I made this soup I bough kale to use, but a day or so before I made it I came across some great organic beets and used those leaves instead. Use what you like, but remember that kale will need more time than beet tops, which need more time than spinach.
If you use the pasta and there are leftovers, the pasta will continue to soak up broth and the soup will become very thick while the pasta gets soft.
At the end of the season, I harvest all my remaining basil and make pesto. I freeze it in ice cube trays and put the cubes into bags to add to soups and sauces all winter long. I'm just using up the last ones now.