Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hearty minestrone keeps us filled, healthy and contented every day

Wednesday, March 26
Never in my wildest imaginings did I think I’d write a blog about cooking in Italy. Eating, yes, because one can always find food here that’s worth writing home about. But I am known in my family only for making pancakes, waffles and omelets on a regular basis, and pumpkin and walnut pies for holidays.
Nearing the final stages: Beans and grain in upper left,
greens in skillet, everything else in the soup pot.

However, when I spent two months in Italy last year without Lucy, I learned to make minestrone that was so good that I would think about it all morning, looking forward to having it for lunch. If I could delay my gratification by eating something else at lunch, then I could anticipate having the soup for dinner. Just writing about it now makes my mouth water.

Lucy had left me several cookbooks and encouraged me to use them, but I am impatient when it comes to reading directions and measuring ingredients. When Lindsey visited for a week, though, I served as her kitchen assistant and head of the one-man clean-up crew, and it helped to participate in the cooking  process rather than just reading about it. After she left, I started making a huge pot of minestrone every Wednesday, eating it once or twice a day, rationing it out so it would last until the next Wednesday. Now that Lucy is with me, I have continued the tradition, and she is able to enjoy the fruits—uh,  vegetables—of my labor.

This is the market where I buy my veggies, from Grazia.

It starts with a bike trip to the weekly outdoor market in San Salvatore. There are many other outdoor markets we could frequent, but this one is very close and has the sentimental value of being in the exact location where the house of my nonno once stood. Most markets have multiple vendors to choose from, but the San Salvatore market has only one stand, run by a pleasant woman in her 50s who is usually accompanied by a man who looks older but we think is her husband. The prices and quality are favorable, and we feel comfortable and welcome because of the friendly service. I fill up my backpack with vegetables, while Lucy selects the fruit.

Once home, I start heating a pan and a large soup pot on the stove. The pan has dried kidney or pinto beans that I had started soaking the day before, but they still need to boil for at least an hour to soften further. The soup pot, which I estimate holds about five quarts, takes water and a couple of tablespoons of concentrate for making vegetable broth. I pour some olive oil and water into a large skillet, and then I start chopping up the vegetables, which will go first into the skillet. I don’t start heating the skillet until it is about a third full to avoid overcooking the first vegetables, because I am a bit slow at chopping. I put the more fibrous vegetables in first, such as the carrots and potatoes.

I can’t specify the quantity of each ingredient, because it varies each time, but here is a list of the staples: carrots, potatoes, garlic, green or red onion, celery, Swiss chard, spinach, asparagus, zucchini (flowers included), parsley and green, yellow or red pepper. I sometimes put in radishes, chicory and some carrot greens. After frying them on the skillet for ten or fifteen minutes, I put them in the soup pot. I usually can’t fit everything in the skillet, so I do a second batch, which usually only includes the leafy ingredients such as the chard, spinach and parsley that don’t need to be fried for more than a few minutes.

By the time I have put all the veggies in the soup pan—along with some salt, pepper and oregano—I have also added about a half a cup of mixed smaller legumes to the simmering kidney beans. These come in a package called Minestrone alla Toscana and include a variety of smaller beans, peas, lentils and some grains. I put these in later because they don’t take as much time to soften as the kidney beans do. After they have simmered for about twenty minutes, the beans and grains are added to the soup and simmered for another thirty minutes to an hour. By this time, my soup pot is nearly overflowing and we have enough to last the week.

Just before eating a serving, I drizzle my full soup bowl with fresh cold-pressed olive oil from a local farm, which surpasses any oil I have bought in a supermarket. Then I grate and sprinkle a hearty dose of Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. The result is bursting with fresh flavor, and I have to exercise some caution to keep from eating too much, because it is very filling. It keeps my stomach busy for many hours digesting the diverse and healthy nutrients that are sometimes lacking in my other meals. I eat fewer between-meal snacks after having a bowl of soup because I feel full until the next meal time.

Lucy enjoys having a little less food preparation to attend to, and she also appreciates the health benefits. “I know that I’m getting lots of nutrients that I’m supposed to have,” she said. “Nobody gets enough vegetables. I look forward to eating it every day.”


  1. Now I have to go find something to eat!


  2. Oooooh more food posts, please!

  3. This pot is full of such lovely colors - textures - I can almost smell and taste it. Magnifico! Miss You Guys


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