Soup, Talking and Not-Talking

[If the title to this post is lost on you, this might clear things up. Watch that movie at least 5 times in your life.]

Our parents and grandparents are bonded together by a number profound, historical time markers. “Where were you when JFK was assassinated?” or “What was your reaction the day the music died?”

Most 20-somethings have their stock of shared, somber cultural experiences. But the bulk of it leans toward the trivial: “What stance did you take on the Spice Girls post-Ginger’s departure? Did you ownForever‘?” or “Remember that Thursday night when the ‘Friends’ series finale aired? Bummer.”

Regardless of how socially meaningful it may be, one of my go-to conversation questions when speaking with someone in my general cohort leans toward food. Food comfortably straddles that fine line between high and low brow, while still holding the potential for heated debate and revealing truths.

For one, there are the nostalgia questions (e.g., reminiscing about the junk food that still exists in your grocer’s aisles, but you typically avoid now.). Nothing gets people going like a verbal volley on the merits of tie-dye Fruit by the Foot or the anthropological importance of Planter’s Cheez Balls (r.i.p.)

In pure Millennial fashion though, my food chat of choice is the “I haven’t seen X Product in any grocery store between here and Boca Raton, Florida, since 1997” commiseration session. Because I’m not the only one who still feels slighted by General Mills since they started hiding boxes of Berry Berry Kix in obscure markets. (*A product-locator search tells me that a downtown Chicago Walmart Express actually has this in stock. This could be huge.)

Whether it’s simply a cruel byproduct of the capitalism that underscores America’s mixed economic structure or just bad luck, we’ve all had at least one experience in which, after falling truly madly deeply in love with a particular cereal or candy bar or brand of jarred pickle, it disappears. Not discontinued or scaled back in product per se, just missing from your personal geographic area.

For years now, this has been the case with me and Progresso’s take on pasta fagioli soup. It’s one of the few non-cream based soups I’ll eat. And it’s gone. Still in existence, according to General Mills’ (evil much?) website, but nowhere to be found within miles of downtown Chicago.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to recreate Berry Berry Kix in my own kitchen, and someday if the craving strikes, I’ll have to settle for knock-off cheese balls, but one thing I can recreate – with potentially better than the original results – is the soup.

Let’s Put Progresso Outta Business Pasta Fagioli Soup
Makes 6 servings. Adapted from the always brilliant Shutterbean

2 tbsp olive oil
3 oz chopped bacon
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
2.5 c chopped tomatoes
Salt + pepper
1 tbsp basil
(Optional) Red pepper flakes
4 c vegetable stock
1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 c ditalini pasta (any small shape would do)
Grated parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon, onions and garlic, sautéing for around 10 minutes until the onions are soft. Then dump in the tomatoes and basil, mixing in red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Next, work in the beans and stock, simmering for another half hour. Finally, add the pasta and let simmer for 12-15 minutes (or however long the pasta box dictates.) Serve with cheese and fresh basil on top.

Congratulations, you only dirtied up one pot (and maybe a cutting board) and robbed General Mills of a $3 purchase! What a rebel you are.

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