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Adriana’s Minestrone di Verdure

There are a great many variations on minestrone, and Adriana’s is extraordinarily creamy, thanks to a healthy number of potatoes. She says you can use short pasta such as ditalini in the dish, but that she prefers croutons instead, because they provide a pleasant texture contrast. To serve 15 (or fewer in fewer meals than you might think; expect people to ask for seconds):

  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 15 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • The leafy fronds from three celery stalks, chopped
  • A small bunch parsley
  • A handful of dried beans (3/4 cup to a cup)
  • A handful of lentils (same volume)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 leeks, white part only, chopped
  • 1/2 of a bulb of fennel
  • 3 leaves fresh spinach
  • 3 leaves fresh beet greens
  • A chunk of squash, peeled
  • The rinds from a wedge of Parmigiano or Grana Padana, if you have them
  • A 6-ounce (150 g) slice of cooked ham
  • A 6-ounce (150 g) slice of speck (smoked prosciutto, which is typical of Northeastern Italy)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Croutons
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano

Set the beans to simmer in a pot of lightly salted water until they are tender.

Combine all the remaining ingredients except the croutons, and simmer them in a pot with abundant water for 3-4 hours. Blend the soup, so as to make it creamy. Add the beans, and if the soup is too thick some of the bean broth (taste it to make sure it’s not overly salty first). Check seasoning, heat the soup to a boil, and serve it with croutons, grated cheese, and extra virgin olive oil for those who want it.

The rest of the meal this was served in.

La Pasqua Napoletana: Minestra di Pasqua, Easter Soup

The traditional beginning of the Neapolitan Easter meal, this is by today’s standards somewhat heavy. Should you prefer, make broth and serve it with tagliolini (similar to tagliatelle but about an eighth of an inch across). If you intend to follow tradition, this recipe is after Cavalcanti, the great Neapolitan gastronome of the mid-1800s.

To serve 6:

  • 3/4 pound (300 g) breast of veal
  • 1 pound (450 g) beef shank
  • 3/4 pound (300 g) pig’s tails (substitute lean pork if you prefer)
  • 3/4 pound (300 g) Neapolitan sausages
  • 1/2 pound (200 g) Neapolitan salami
  • Fresh parsley and thyme
  • Marjoram
  • A little bit of rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • 1.5 quarts (1.5 liters) water
  • 5 pounds (2 k) cardoons stripped of their fibrous threads, or 5 pounds leafy vegetables (savoy cabbage, lettuce, beet greens etc.)
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) dry white wine
  • Salt (to be added at the end)
  • Pepper or hot pepper to taste

On Easter Eve make broth using the meat and the herbs; begin with cold water to cover and place the herbs in a gauze pouch so you can remove them easily when the broth is done (an hour or somewhat more simmering; taste the liquid and correct seasoning). Remove and discard the herbs. Remove the meat from the broth, pluck it from the bones, and set it in a bowl, with enough broth to cover.

The next day skim the fat from the bowl and the soup pot and stir in the wine. Scrub chop and boil the greens until almost done, drain them well, and finish cooking them in the broth with the meats, seasoning to taste. Serve with slices of toasted bread.

Other Neapolitan Easter Recipes

Minestra di Pane and Ribollita

Ribollita in the Making

Ribollita in the Making

Most Italian bread soups are decidedly frugal. However, Tuscany’s Minestra di Pane, which becomes Ribollita if left overnight and reheated the next day, is much richer, a hearty winter vegetable soup with greens, beans, potatoes and cavolo nero (black leaf kale, a long-leafed variety of winter cabbage whose leaves are a very dark purplish green), to which stale bread is added. It’s one of the finest ways to use stale bread you’ll ever encounter, and you may find yourself seeking out Tuscan bread (which is made without salt, and baked directly on the floor of the oven, giving it a firm crunchy crust) to enjoy it.

This recipe will serve 6 (a perhaps optimistic estimate) and will also expand very well; Tuscans commonly make large pots following these general proportions and enjoy it while it lasts. The pot here? A bit less than half of a batch I made in several pots, one of which (if I remember right) went to some friends.

  • 1 pound (450 g) dried white (cannellini)  beans, washed and soaked for three hours
  • A small onion, a small carrot, a six inch stick of celery, and a small bunch of parsley, minced together
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) cavolo nero or black-leaf kale, shredded
  • 1 pound (450 g) beet greens, ribbed and shredded
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) potatoes, peeled and diced
  • Salt, pepper, and a sprig of thyme
  • Thinly sliced day-old Italian or French white bread; it is important that the crumb be firm and that it have nice crusts
  • Extravirgin olive oil (to be used at the table)

Boil the beans in lightly salted water.

When they’re almost cooked, sauté the onion mixture in the oil, in a heavy bottomed pot. When the onion has become translucent, add the tomato paste and the liquid from the beans. Add the cabbage, beet greens, and potatoes. Stir in the beans and season to taste with salt, pepper, and the sprig of thyme. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked (taste a piece for doneness), and remove the thyme. Take a pot proportionate to the volume of the soup and the bread and fill it with alternating layers of thinly sliced bread and soup, making sure the bread is damp, until the soup is used up (you may not use all the bread).

A Restaurant Serving of Ribollita

A Restaurant Serving of Ribollita

When you are done heat the soup through over a gentle flame, stirring gently occasionally,  lest the bottom scorch.

Served immediately, this dish is called minestra di pane, or bread soup, and is good. However time works an extraordinary magic on it, and if you can make it ahead, and then reheat it to obtain ribollita, by all means do.

Serve it as a first course, with a cruet of extra virgin olive oil so your diners can sprinkle it into their soup according to their taste. The wine? A light zesty red, for example a Chianti Colli Fiorentini would go well, as would a rosé.