2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1/4 pound pancetta or thick-cut prosciutto, finely chopped (optional)
1 pound zucchini, cut into strips lengthwise (discarding the seedy centers), then cut into small pieces
2 ribs celery with leafy tops, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped, divided
Salt and pepper
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (32 ounces)
One can cannellini beans (15 ounces), rinsed
One can tomato puree or crushed tomatoes (15 ounces)
1/4 pound whole wheat penne or other short-cut pasta
A handful of basil, torn into pieces
2 tablespoons butter
4 thick slices Italian bread
About 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Finely chopped parsley, for garnish
In a soup pot, heat the EVOO, a couple of turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta or prosciutto, if using, and cook until browned, a couple of minutes. Add the zucchini, celery, carrot, onion, bay leaf and 2 cloves garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are tender, 7-8 minutes.
Pre-heat the broiler and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Stir the chicken stock, beans and tomatoes into the soup and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente. Stir in the basil and lower the heat to low.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add in the remaining 1 clove garlic and swirl for a minute or so; remove from the heat.
Broil the bread on both sides until lightly toasted. Brush the bread with the garlic butter and sprinkle with the cheese and parsley. Broil to melt the cheese. Serve the soup in shallow bowls, each topped with a crouton.