4 slices nitrate free bacon
1½ cups diced onions (1 large onion)
2 cups thickly sliced carrots (3 large carrots cut into ½-inch chunks)
2½ cups diced butternut squash (1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 thyme sprigs
1 can (28 ounces) organic crushed tomatoes in puree
6 cups gluten free organic chicken broth
2 teaspoons kosher or fine sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
8 ounces gluten free penne
1 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
5 ounces organic spinach leaves
4 slices gluten-free sandwich bread (each slice about ½-inch thick)
3 tablespoons basil pesto
2 tablespoons olive oil
Parmesan cheese, optional
Chop the bacon and put into a large, cold stockpot. Turn heat to medium and cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until the bacon fat is rendered and the bacon starts to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the onions, carrots, squash, garlic, and thyme sprigs. Cook over medium heat until the onions are softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and bay leaves. Raise heat to high, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender.
While the soup is simmering, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook according to the package directions (about 7 minutes.) Drain the pasta and rinse under hot water.
Make the croutons. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut the bread into cubes (9 cubes per slice of bread). In a mixing bowl, combine the pesto and olive oil. Add the bread cubes and toss gently until the bread is fully coated. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
Once the soup has simmered for 30 minutes and the veggies are tender, remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs, add the pasta and beans and heat through. Add the spinach and stir into the soup. Cook just until the spinach is wilted.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, top with some croutons and a grating of Parmesan cheese if desired.