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Column: My weight in breadsticks

While I much rather work at a smaller community newspaper like the Three Forks Voice, I do miss a few things about a larger publication.

One of the biggest things is the camaraderie among the employees. I have made lifelong friends throughout my travels working at papers across the western United States. There were always plenty of office shenanigans, and so many times, the staff would go to lunch during the week to take a quick break.

When I worked in Washington state, the main office for the newspaper company I worked for was a quick walk downtown and about five minutes from an Olive Garden. Although I much rather eat at a smaller, locally owned restaurant, there is just something about the Olive Garden lunch of soup, salad, and breadsticks that keep bringing me back. I’m not a huge fan of their entrees because I eat so many starters that I don’t have to worry about the main course.

Over the week in the Apple state, we would head to Olive Garden at least once or twice a week, where I probably ate my weight in breadsticks in a month. I would also always order the Pasta e Fagioli soup and would be known to finish a bowl or three.

Always wanting to try new dishes for Sunday dinner, I thought it would be an excellent idea to attempt to make Pasta e Fagioli and started doing research. I found that it was a relatively simple dish to make and after a few years of tinkering am very happy with my recipe.

I always start by browning some ground hot Italian sausage in olive oil. Once finished, take the meat out, add a bit more oil and sauté the joy that is mirepoix of onions, carrots, and celery. I’ll add a bit of garlic to the pot, and I’m already ready smiling.

After the vegetables do their thing for about 10 to 15 minutes, I’ll throw in a couple of cans of chicken broth, a can of crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and a can of kidney beans.

At this point, I start to get excited because the soup begins to take on a beautiful red color, and I want to start eating it right out of the pot.

Some recipes I’ve seen that call for fresh herbs, but I find the dry ingredients do just fine. I add some parsley, marjoram, oregano, and a couple of bay leaves. Next, I put in a pinch or seven of red pepper flakes and a beer. Why beer someone may ask. Because its beer is the best answer I can give.

I always season my mirepoix with salt and pepper, and with both their is doesn’t need to be any additional seasoning.

After a few stirs, I let the soup simmer for a few hours to develop some wonderful flavors and let the carrots get tender.

It only takes about 20 minutes to reach this point, which is ideal when trying to cook around football. When I made it a few Sundays ago, the smell permeating through the house took my mind off the fact that the new Denver Broncos coach was having a terrible time trying to figure out that it’s not always the best idea to always run out of the shotgun at the one-yard-line.

After around three hours, I will throw in some ditalini pasta, but only around a cup. The first time I attempted the soup, I didn’t think a cup of this small pasta was enough, so I put in two. It was a disaster. The noodles increased in size and sucked just about all the broth from the soup. The noodles only take about a half hour, and the soup is ready to go.

I always like to put a little parmesan cheese on the top, and unlike Olive Garden, it’s nice not to have a stranger asking you when to stop when putting cheese on the soup.

This is it if you are looking for something different and easy for a Sunday. It tastes similar to what you get at the Olive Garden.

I have yet to try and recreate their breadsticks, which would be a bad idea for my weight.

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