We all get jammed up for time. There was a day recently when the weather turned rainy and cool-ish. I wanted soup in a hurry. But I didn't have time to mess around prepping fresh vegetables. And, there wasn't a great selection in my refrigerator produce bin. Lettuce, celery, radishes, and cucumbers weren't screaming, "Put me in a soup!". Do vegetables scream? Should I make a special trip to the store? Nope. Canned soups? Eeeeew. All that sodium and well, they're just so "blah."
However, my pantry yielded a healthy soup in under 30 minutes. That included simmer time. It was a jar of Marinara Sauce.
Yes. Marinara Sauce. Soup is the only reason I keep a couple of jars in the pantry. Marinara sauce is so simple to make from scratch that I wouldn't debase good pasta with what comes in jars, preferring a quality brand of canned whole, diced, or crushed tomatoes with sautéed onion and garlic.
Fresh. Done. "Dinner!"
However, this simple soup recipe is a great way to use a bottle of marinara sauce to make a fast and satisfying meal. And this recipe gives you a reason to 'mine' your freezer for all those dibs and dabs of vegetables ... like the last few broccoli florets in that bag. Clean it out! Make way for new! And, don't forget those bits of leftover rice or pasta in the fridge.
Even better, you can customize it by adding other ingredients like diced tomatoes, sliced/diced roasted peppers from a jar, sautéed fresh or frozen sweet peppers (use all the colors of the rainbow!), beans, or other protein (think: tofu, tempeh, soy curls, plant-based crumbles, etc) to make it heartier. I buy sweet peppers when the price is right, slice off the big sides (avoiding the center seeds) and toss 'em into a zip-lock in the freezer. All it takes is running them under warm water for about a minute ... slice, dice and cook. Done. No trip to the store needed.
This soup is infinitely 'customizable' and a great way to 'clean out' the last of those bags of frozen vegetables, leftover rice or pasta, or whatever's lurking in the produce bin, protein of your choice - or not - which can be as simple as that can of beans from the pantry.
You might ask "what's the difference between pasta sauce and Marinara sauce?" I'm glad you asked.
Marinara sauce is a type of Italian tomato sauce that is typically made from a few simple ingredients, including tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil, and herbs such as basil and oregano. It's known for its bright, fresh tomato flavor and simplicity. Marinara sauce is typically cooked quickly, usually simmered for a relatively short period of time, often less than 30 minutes, which helps maintain the bright red color and the fresh taste of the tomatoes. It's commonly used as a sauce for pasta, especially spaghetti, and as a base for various Italian-American dishes. That's why I make my own. What comes in these jars is, IMHO, not Marinara, but more like a basic 'red' pasta sauce, which is a more general term that encompasses a wide range of sauces used with pasta. Think Pesto, Bolognese, or Alfredo. Those are pasta sauces.
So, grab that jar of Marinara Sauce - your favorite brand - and use this very basic recipe as a starting point. I almost hate to call it a 'recipe' since it's more like gentle guidelines. One of the great things about store-bought Marinara is that it's already seasoned, and that's a time/hassle saver right there. I like the Mezetta brand, but really, buy what's on sale where you shop. I'd just recommend a low-sodium version. Prefer a 'spicy' version, mushroom, tomato basil, or roasted garlic? Hey, go for it! Keep it simple. Use what you've got.
1 jar (about 24 oz) of marinara sauce. Any brand that you like.
2 cups of vegetable or vegan chicken broth (adjust for desired consistency)
1 small onion, finely chopped (see notes for options to this)
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced (feel free to use bottled minced garlic or even the roasted cloves that you'll find on olive bars in some grocery stores), and if you don't have cloves of garlic, substitute about 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder.
1 cup of frozen mixed vegetables ( start with the kind your mom served that is a mix of peas, carrots, green beans ... then move on from there depending on what you have on hand)
1 celery stalk, diced (this is optional. Use it if you've got it)
1/2 teaspoon each of dried basil and oregano (or 1 tsp of your favorite Italian seasoning)
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Optional ingredients: MINE YOUR FREEZER for broccoli, cauliflower, okra, limas, corn, green beans (cut to shorter bite-sized pieces), asparagus (cut to shorter bite-sized pieces), fresh or frozen spinach, kale or Collards, butternut squash chunks.
I keep my freezer fully stocked with a variety of vegetables and bags of drained, rinsed beans. Nobody is going to know the difference between fresh and frozen in something like this soup. This allows you to really innovate on-the-fly without time-sucking trips to the grocery store. Grab a handful, and rock on.
Additional goodies: canned hominy, lentils, any bean, cooked rice or grains like Farro, freshly cooked or leftover pasta, a can of Muir Glen (or your favorite brand) roasted diced tomatoes. Don't feel like adding a whole can of beans to your soup? I keep a large zip-lock of smaller bags, each with drained, rinsed beans. Pinto. Cannelini. Black-eyed Peas. Black beans. Grab a handful of one or several and dump into your soup. This is also a great thing to add to cooked rice in order add 'heft' and protein. The big bag is labelled "beans by the handful".
I usually have several cans of Conchita Spanish Sofrito in my pantry. It's a delicious mix of tomatoes, red/green/yellow sweet peppers, onions and garlic. I dump a can right into the soup pot if I don't have time to mess around sautéeing onions. You can purchase this Sofrito in many Latin markets or online.
If you want to roll more Latin than Italian, you can also start a great soup with just a couple of cans of this and a can of diced or crushed tomatoes.
Optional toppings: grated vegan Parmesan cheese, fresh basil, croutons, or a dollop of vegan sour cream
Prepare the Vegetables: In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, minced garlic (if using), and diced celery (if using). Sauté the vegetables for about 3-5 minutes or until they start to soften.
Add the Marinara Sauce: Pour the entire bottle of marinara sauce into the pot with the sautéed vegetables. Stir well to combine.
Thin with Broth: Pour in the broth to thin out the soup and achieve your desired consistency. Start with 1 to 2 cups and add more if needed. Stir to combine. NOTE: If you're using a can of the Conchita Sofrito or diced tomatoes, add those first, and you won't need as much broth.
Season the Soup: Add the dried basil and oregano to the pot. You can adjust the seasoning according to your taste. Remember that the marinara sauce already contains some seasoning, so be cautious, especially with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust as needed.
Simmer: Bring the soup to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, barely cover the pot, and let it simmer for about 15-20 minutes. This will allow the flavors to meld together.
Serve: Once the soup has simmered and the frozen vegetables are warmed through, remove it from heat. Ladle the hot marinara soup into bowls. If desired, you can top it with grated vegan Parmesan cheese, fresh basil leaves, croutons, or a dollop of vegan sour cream.
Enjoy: Serve your easy marinara soup hot, and enjoy your quick and flavorful creation with some slices of warm sourdough and maybe a green salad.