A sentimental journey into my past and into my present, as there would be no present without the past. A collection of recipes, pictures and thoughts. A vehicle, really, to allow me to "find" myself, once again, through my travels in a wonderful time capsule smelling of Borotalco, green Palmolive soap, basil and the smell of the sea, which came in through our windows in my past and forever present time in the place where my soul wants to be: MY WONDERFUL ITALY!
Sunday, 9 October 2011
"Raindrops keep falling on my head" (Memories with authentic MINESTRONE recipe!)
The bell is ringing: time to go home! We pick up our coats, line up in the long white corridors, satchels in hand, and happy. We always feel happy when it rains. We don't see much rain in Bari, so, when it does rain, we love it! Can't wait to get out of the building! A sea of mums and dads are waiting outside, calling their children's name. Above, a sea of umbrellas! It's such an event, when it rains!
I am glad no one came for me... I can walk outside, stand in the little piazza, opposite the church, spread my arms out, as much as I can, and feel the rain! I open my mouth, trying to drink some of the drops. My hair is getting wet, but I don't care! It's Winter... I pick up a drop of resin from the trunk of a tree, I smell it "Smells like Christmas!" and I start making my way home.
We don't live far from the school and I can walk by myself, almost dodging cars, as I cross the roads. So many cars! The rain is making my hair wet, but... "So what?"
I know I'm almost home, because I'm walking faster. It's Saturday (we go to school on Saturdays!) and I can't wait to get home. Now I'm running... and here I am. She opens the door, looks at me:" You are so wet! You'll catch a cold!" But I know I won't... I never do!
I will never, ever forget that sense happiness, that feeling of being content, protected, sheltered from the rain, and happy, because our home was warm, alive, full of sounds, laughter and music. And it was my den! I still go there, when I feel sad. It feels good in my den... and warm...
The windows are all steamed up. A few drops slowing elongating, turn into small streams and make their way, down the window pane, all the way down, to then disappear into the white wooden frame.
The city is alive, below, the sound almost deafening, but I love it! Everyone is in a hurry to get home, to the comfort of their own steamed up windows, and their own little drops of water which make their way down their own window panes. I watch ( a little girl- did I ever grow up?) as the long snake of traffic downstairs comes to a halt, at the railway crossing.
I make dots with my nose on the long steamed up windows and, as always, in Winter, I draw a house with a tree on each side and I write my name with my fingrer. Suddenly a voice calls. I must stop my "sogni ad occhi aperti" as the table is set. And there he is, Babbo, my father, already at the table looking like a man who owns the world!
On my journey through my past, I decided bring back one of those Saturdays, at home, in Bari. Cooking a dish isn't just an action, or something necessary to our survival. It is, to me, a time machine. Through tastes and smells and lots of love, I can travel back in time.
I want to take you on a journey... here we go!
A rainy day in my childhood
(The one and only authentic minestrone recipe)
5-6 generous glugs olive oil
70 g (just over 3 oz) diced pancetta, or bacon
( can be left out, for a vegetarian version)
1 large onion
4 spring onions
4 tomatoes (fresh or tinned)
4 celery stalks, washed and chopped
4 large potatoes, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 peppers, diced
handful French or runner beans
cut into smallish pieces or in half
1/2 aubergine (eggplant)
1 large courgette
(cut into smallish chunks)
small bunch Swiss Chard
or curly kale
1/2 a large cabbage
big handful borlotti beans
(or 3/4 can of cooked borlotti or
1 vegetable or chicken stock cube
(as much as you like!)
250 g short pasta (casarecce or shells) cooked and dained or crusty bread
Lots of ingredients, but, really, an easy dish. Begin by getting all you vegatables ready (wash and chop all of them. You can use any vegatables you like.The only root vegetable you should use is carrot. Things like parsnips and swede don't really taste Italian, so ... big NO NO!)
Pour the oil into a large pot and heat. When really hot, add the chopped onion, stir for a couple of minutes, then add your tomatoes. Again, stir until they begin to soften. Add your pancetta, then carrots, potatoes and celery (don't forget the celery. Minestrone wouldn't taste the same, without!) Stir for a few minutes. By now your base might look a bit dry. Add water (1/2 glass) and keep stirring and cooking for 5-6 minutes.
You are now ready to add your lovely aubergine (eggplant.) Again, stir for a few minutes, then add a small amount of water if it's looking dry. Add your stock cube, as this will improve the flavour.
You can now add your peppers, courgettes (zucchine) and whichever kind ogf green bean you are using. Keep stirring, then add enough water to just cover the vegetables. Remember that minestrone is a chunky soup, which shouldn't be dry, though you don't want it to be watery!
Turn the heat down, place a lid on the pot and cook for about 10 minutes. It should by now be smelling just delicious!
You are now ready to add all that lovely cabbage, which is really one of the main ingredients. I love it!
Stir until all the vegetables are mixed together. Make sure you have enough liquid (it should just cover your vegetables) and cook until the cabbage is almost done. Add the Swiss chard, kale, or any other leafy vegetable you might like to use, with a handful of grated Parmesan and lots of lovely black pepper (I love the aroma!)
You will know that your minestrone is ready when you taste it: all the vegetables should be firm, but cooked. At this point you can add your lovely borlotti beans or your half can of drained haricot beans.
I had my minestrone with a small amount of cooked casarecce pasta which I added before serving. You might like to have yours with crusty bread and lots of cheese and black pepper.
Remember that pasta should never be cooked in a soup, as it would make it thick and starchy. It should always be cooked in boiling water, then drained and added. Try not to add any raw oil to your dish, as, though it may look nice, it will take over and spoil the flavour of the dish.