musings about food, travel, creativity and life

Food for the Soul

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?


Serves: 4-6

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

Seasonal vegetables-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.)

4 thoughts on “Food for the Soul”

  • Lynn, I just love your blog . Thank you for writing them so well and so from the heart. As to your question about family culinary traditions that feed one’s soul… i make Scandinavian fruit soup. Only I put in many kinds of fruit. My grandmother used raisins and prunes, but I add to these, apricots, cranberries, cherries, apples, and sometimes strawberries. Lemon and orange rinds along with cinnamon give the soup a sweet spiciness (sp?). This reminds me, I need to make some when I get home from my little weekend retreat with a couple of women friends!

    • So glad you’re liking the blog, Joan, and what a wonderful sharing about your grandmother’s fruit soup. I would love to
      find out more about that. Isn’t it nice to have dishes that bring back so many fine memories of places and people we’ve loved? I think it
      would be fun to create a cookbook with one favorite family recipe from each of the blog followers…a fantasy, but who knows? Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Lynn, I love the collage you did for this entry. Talk about joy – I can see it, feel it, and even hear it!
    With regards to your minestrone soup, I’ve made it and it is delicious. My mother was a good cook. Her specialties were farm to table
    comfort food; fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, pot roast with carrots, potatoes and onions and pan gravy, everything had gravy, and last but not least meatloaf with you guessed it, gravy. Needless to say my childhood was full of high caloric food. I have learned to make less fattening versions and even those foster up memories of enjoyable meals at our farm style table. My dear father was not a cook, but could manage a burger or a steak on the grill.

    • Thanks, Barbara, for sharing all your family foods…gravy certainly had a starring role! I wonder what might be one of your personal current favorite meals or recipes. It’s fun to keep open to new ideas about what recipes are tasty, healthy and fun. And now it’s time for dinner!

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