Food for the Soul
It must have been the visit to my hometown of San Francisco that has made me so nostalgic for “all things Italian.” I thought a lot about my parents who were my first “bring joy to the table” mentors. Both of them had a zest for life–my mom in a more out-there, big-laugh way, my dad in a quieter, more twinkly “it’s a beautiful life” way. And both were great cooks.
So this week, I’ve immersed myself in my Italian-American heritage. One night I made three cheese tortellini with pesto sauce, with cantuccini (small biscotti) and torrone for dessert. I also signed up for a newsletter from L’Italo-Americano Center and bought raffle tickets for a trip to Positano on the Amalfi Coast. I didn’t win, but someone did!
And I’ve just started reading a book called La Dolce Vita University: An Unconventional Guide to Italian Culture from A to Z by Carla Gambescia with Michael Stein. Right from her introduction, the author speaks to me when she says, “My earliest sense of myself was not just that I was a little girl but that I was Italian.” Her book is divided into chapters for the letters of the alphabet. I just finished the “A” chapter with its short discussions of topics such as Aperitivi, Arte, and “Arrangiarsi, the Art of ‘Making Do.’” I’m learning a lot and having fun doing it, and there’s more to come…as in “B” to “Z”.
Some of you may know that many years ago I created a family cookbook/memoirette called Con Gusto: Eating and Living the Italian-American Way. It contains family stories, photos of fabric collages based on family photos, and family recipes.
One of my favorite go-to recipes from that book is minestrone, a soup I prepare when I’m feeling a little low or when it’s cold and rainy (!) out. I’m including the recipe for you below. Buon Appetito!
And you? I’m curious…what do you like to prepare from your family’s culinary traditions that makes you happy, that feeds your soul?
1 ½ cups dried cranberry beans (sorted, cleaned, covered with water by 3 inches and soaked overnight) or 2-15 oz. cans of kidney (or pinto) beans
2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup Italian parsley, chopped
5 leaves fresh basil, chopped; or 1 tablespoon, dried
1 bay leaf
1 ½ T. Italian herbs
1 T. dry rosemary, chopped
2 zucchini, 2 celery ribs, 2 carrots, 1 fennel bulb, 5 or 6 leaves of swiss chard. Plus 1 cup shredded white or red cabbage, 1 cubed potato, and l cup green beans cut into thirds
8 cups broth (vegetable, chicken or beef)
2 T. butter
3 T. tomato paste
4 small bite-size pieces of Parmesan rind*
4 oz. dry spaghetti, broken into thirds
8 oz. sliced cooked chicken sausage (optional)
2 T. pesto sauce (optional)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, parsley, herbs. Sauté until onions are soft. Add all the chopped vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the beans and broth and bring to a boil. (If using canned beans, add them halfway into the cooking time.) Add the Parmesan rinds, butter and tomato paste. Simmer for at least an hour, or until beans are soft. Remove bay leaf.
Add the spaghetti and sausage (if desired), return to a slow boil and cook until the pasta is done.
To give the soup a Ligurian touch, just before serving, mix in the pesto sauce.
Top with Parmesan cheese and enjoy!
* Alert people to the chewy Parmesan rind they may find in their minestrone. (As a child, I always wanted to find that chewy treat in the bottom of my bowl; I still do.)