I am exploring a new cookbook, Share: the cookbook that celebrates our common humanity. It was published by Women for Women International, an organization that helps women in war torn countries. Aside from learning about their stories, I’ve found some neat recipes that I never would have tried before.
This book is really fun to flip through because the recipes come not only from the women being helped, but also the women doing the helping. This provides for an interesting look at food around the world– who’s using enriched ingredients, which traditions favor simpler dishes, etc. I hope to make many of these recipes, especially those that are a bit more unique. However, I started off with a hearty stew that pretty much any mediterranean foodie knows: pasta e fagioli.
Pasta e fagioli is a very traditional, Italian stew (pasta and beans), and I want to talk a little bit about the terminology here. I have labelled this post in particular as minestra. Any students of Italian will naturally question this, because the word that most commonly refers to “soup” is zuppa. The history of these terms is fascinating, and really important in terms of how we should view dishes like these.
In Italian, zuppa refers to a soup with broth and chunks of bread, no pasta. Apparently, the term actually comes from a Gothic word meaning “soaked bread.” On the contrary, my new favorite, minestra, is a soup that does usually involve pasta. Nowadays, this soup is typically considered a first course (not fancy enough to be an entree). However, minestra was originally the main (and only) course given to slaves in ancient times, and the term comes from the Latin ministrāre, ‘to supply.’ (Thanks to this Italian Life for the crash course!)
Obviously, I geeked out a bit at that! On a more serious note- I don’t believe we need to look at this simple minestra as just a first course. This soup was originally meant to sustain men and women throughout an entire day. It might be vegetarian, but it’s jam-packed with protein and carbs. I “beef” it up a bit by adding in a fabulous herb mixture, but this soup can truly be anything you want it to be. The base is a vegetable broth with pasta and beans. You decide the rest.
Because it’s summer, and I am on a farmer’s market roll, I decided to throw in some seasonal veggies as well. Thankfully, this soup also doesn’t take long (about forty to fifty minutes in all).
Minestra: pasta e fagioli
serves about 4, as a main course
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves
3/4 large onion
5 small carrots (with stems)
2 ribs celery
14oz can cannellini beans
14oz can diced tomatoes (if you can find San Marzano, bless the town you live in for carrying them and please make use of them!!)
4-5 cups vegetable stock (I use Knorr bouillon cubes, because it’s cheaper)
1/3 cup frozen peas
1 medium zucchini
2 bay leaves
1 cup macaroni
optional for topping
parmesan cheese (leave off for vegan option)
dill, Italian parsley, and carrot-top herb mix
salt and pepper
The most tedious thing about this recipe is all of the chopping you are going to have to do! (It’s totally worth it though, so don’t let that scare you!)
First, chop the garlic and onion. [Pro-tip: Bring a miniature cutting station to your living room couch and a bunch of tiny bowls. I watched some Mad Men while making this, so I was chopping everything and separating it out before I even approached the stove!]
Next, chop off the stems of the carrots (but save those leafy greens for later). Peel the carrots and quarter them. Honestly, you can probably get away with just slicing the carrots, but I knew I wanted a softer stew, so I went ahead and cut them into smaller bites. I even added in a big carrot because it seemed like a good amount of orange…I wouldn’t recommend it, because it ended up leaving me with little broth and LOTS of stuff in my soup! In the end, it will be delicious anyway.
Trim and chop the celery, adding it into the bowl with the carrots.
In a large pot, heat up the olive oil and add in the garlic and onions.
After about a minute, add in the carrots and celery. Make sure you stir everything a bit so that the onions do not overcook at the bottom of the pot.
Let this cook for about five minutes. During this time you need to rinse and drain the cannellini beans, and prepare your five cups of broth. Drop two or three cubes of Knorr bouillon into 5 cups of boiling water and stir until the cubes have dissolved. If you are using pre-made broth, you’ve saved yourself some time (and an extra pot)!
When the carrots are tender but still have their color, add the beans, diced tomatoes, and broth into the pot. This mixture needs to simmer for about twenty minutes.
During this time you can: watch more Mad Men, finely slice a zucchini (if you want to add that), and chop up your herb mixture.
For my herb mixture, I used 1/4 cup dill, 1/2 cup Italian parsley, and the stems from my carrots! I washed them all and bunched them all together and chopped them. This was hastily done because I was hungry for soup, so you could probably mince them carefully and separately and it would be fancy and beautiful, but that’s not really what minestra is about, so I say just go for it and slow down just to enjoy the flavors at the end!
After the twenty minutes is up, add in the peas, zucchini, bay leaves, and pasta. Stir everything together really well, and leave it to simmer for another ten minutes.
Next, serve each bowl with a heaping pile of fresh herbs and Parmesan. Add some salt and pepper to the top for taste.