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)

4-6 servings

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
haricot beans)
1 vegetable or chicken stock cube
Parmesan Cheese
(as much as you like!)
black pepper

250 g short pasta
(casarecce or shells)
cooked and dained
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.

Felice sabato!


  1. Oh, Anna what a fantastic post! I think we could be friends! I am just like you - you are correct cooking is a time machine. Some dishes seem to be in one's genes... that is so mind-blowing! Thank you for your comment on my today's post. If you lived in my neighbourhood I would love to invite you for homemade grissinis... I think we would have lots to talk about... Big hugs

  2. Ciao, Christa! Yes, I would certainly enjoy sharing the lovely home made grissini and some of the delicious looking appetizers you prepared, to have with your drinks!

    I would also like to learn about the food Emilie (that is your mother, isn't she?) used to cook for you when you lived at home.

    I am fascinated by the cultural and linguistic diversity of a place like Switzerland. That must be certainly be reflected in the food. Fantastic!

    Buona notte...


  3. Hello Anna

    You write, speak and cook with such passion. This minestrone looks like a winner and I will try it one day soon.
    I also like rain and I think your mother and mine took the same health class, "Mam would always say, you'll get pneumonia if you don't change out of those wet clothes immediatley" Mothers, what do they know???? I think lots.

    Helen xx

  4. Ciao, Helen!

    I really enjoy writing, but sometimes I think I say too much about myself! But that is what my blog is about: a connection between my life as an Italian, and the "Proustian" (is there such word?) effect food and scents have on me. No past... no recipes!

    Try this one. It really is easy, very healthy and delicious!

    Enjoy your evening.



  5. Hello Anna, As always I learn something about Italian Cooking from your lovely post. I thought you cooked the pasta in with the soup. Yours looks so deilcious! I love your gentle nostagia. I often think that I have an elegiac turn of mind- not gloomy but the Romantic definition- "Emotions recollected in tranquility"- I feel you do to and that is why I love your writing and photographs so much, Jane x

  6. Yes, Jane... I realized that, when I read your post about being "Content"... I know what you mean, and yes, I do like to recollect my emotions. I find it adds an extra dimension to life and enriches it.
    I guess I am a bit of Romantic, too, but it's good and I hope that my being romantic doesn't clash with posting recipes! But that's my blog!
    You always very kind, Jane, and I love hearing from you!
    PS: Autumn has arrived, at last! I can hear the wind, outside!



  7. Ciao Anna - I am off to Emilie's in a few mintues - I'll answer you on Wednesday. It is an interesting question you are asking. Enjoy your day! Christa

  8. O Anna...what a delightful post...I too loved to eat the rain, I love to run in it or swim. And you reminded me of home, of growing up, of lovely parents who made it all safe and warm. I will try the soup recipe. Sending you love!

  9. MrsLittleJeans... may I just begin by saying how much I love your cats! They are fantastic and I want them both! If not both, can I have the hairy one? It reminds me of my Henry!

    There's something very interesting about wanting to taste things ( I eat seaweed, when I can, as it reminds me of home!) It's probably a way of extending one's childhood through the process of getting to know the world through one's senses! Isn't it really wonderful for an adult to still be able to do that? Keep eating rain, MrsLittleJeans... I am with you there. I know what you mean!

    Thank you for sending me love. Love to you, too!

    PS: Can I have your cats?


  10. Hi Anna, I really enjoyed this little look into your childhood. Your writing was so vivid, I could feel the rain and the hear the traffic and see the sea of umbrellas, it was wonderful. I am glad you give of yourself, it is really beautiful, and the minestrone looks really hearty! Have a happy week, love Linda x

  11. Ciao, Linda! Thank you very much for complimenting me on my writing: it means a lot to me. I think it's nice to have something, or a little story to tell, rather than just post a recipe without background, I enjoy doing it... and preraring food for my photos!

    Happy week to you, too!



  12. What a lovely nostalgic post. I just discovered your blog and share your passion for Italy. I have an Italian background also, and grew up with Italian grandparents who cooked for me all the time. I wish I had asked them to write down their recipes! But I have lovely memories of all the nourishing dishes they prepared and the good times around the table with them!

  13. Ciao, Sunday Taylor!

    I am glad you discovered my blog and I hope you keep reading and commenting, as I enjoy communicating with people!

    You were lucky to have Italian grandparents, and, though you may not have their recipes, you have lovely memories of the good times spent together. Memories are very precious!

    Welcome to my blog, then!



  14. Hi Anna, many thanks for your comments on wreaths. I do like the sound of the bunches of sweetcorn on either side of the door, sounds charming! Have a great weekend, love Linda x