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.
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.
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.
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.”