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Mother's minestrone alla genovese recipe

Mother's minestrone alla genovese recipe

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  • Recipes
  • Dish type
  • Soup
  • Vegetable soup
  • Minestrone

This is a special recipe, straight from my beloved mother's golden hands. She made it often in spring and summer and, if the weather was warm, she'd serve it lukewarm or cool. I remember that she even offered it to a crowd, at one of my sisters' wedding. Its texture, colors, fragrance, appearance...everything in this dish speaks of her.

13 people made this

IngredientsServes: 8

  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 1kg fresh borlotti beans, or mixed beans
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 waxy potatoes, sliced into cubes
  • 2 courgettes, sliced into cubes
  • 200g string beans cut in 3cm strips
  • 2 leeks, sliced into rounds
  • 1 package frozen petite peas
  • coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • pesto
  • grated Parmigiano Reggiano™

MethodPrep:25min ›Cook:25min ›Extra time:15min resting › Ready in:1hr5min

  1. Wash the chard well and separate the leaves from the stalks. Coarsely chop the stalks and cut the leaves in thin strips along the short side. Shell the beans.
  2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil slightly and add the onion, celery, carrots and chard stalks to soften. Add the lemon zest and cook for another 2-3 minutes until it releases its fragrance.
  3. Add the potateos and all the other vegetables, except the chard leaves. Add the clove and a good handful of salt.
  4. Barely cover with water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the vegetables are tender but still have their shape. Add the chard leaves, cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Adjust salt and pepper, sprinkle with a bit of olive oil and serve with the pesto and Parmesan cheese on the side.

Using up your vegetables

If you have veggies languishing in the refrigerator, this is a good recipe to throw them in and not waste them.


This soup is even better after it's rested overnight.

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Reviews & ratingsAverage global rating:(4)

Reviews in English (1)

Wonderful vegetable soup, served it with parmesan, pesto (I think this is what makes this soup special), and focaccia. I used 2 cups small dry white beans, presoaked it for 2 hrs.-31 Jan 2014

Cooking School: Minestrone with Pesto

I'm feeling a bit under the weather. I caught a nasty flu and spent the weekend in bed tending a fever, runny nose and a sore throat. I'm still not feeling all that hot right now, but the bed is becoming a bit of a bore and staring at the ceiling, counting the cracks again and again is just not as interesting as coming down here, relaxing on my red comfy sofa and sharing another one of my favorite comfort foods with you.

As part of my Cooking School series, I am presenting the wonderful, the totally nourishing and the very comforting, Minestrone. There is certainly no fixed recipe for a minestrone soup and you are sure to find as many recipes for this vegetable soup as you will find Italian pizzerias. Each region in Italy specializes in it's own minestrone, adding their own ingredients and vegetables. As a matter of fact, the same cook will alternate his/her recipe depending on the vegetables in season. 

Minestrone is one of the vital elements in Italian cuisine and is more commonly eaten throughout Italy than pasta itself. It basically is a soup, and depending on the person who makes it, can be thick or thin, have rice or pasta in it or be vegetarian or contain meat.

The minestrone comes from modest origins, being part of the so called cucina povera, which means poorer people's cuisine, it was a type of dish that was thrown together with whatever ingredients one had left over. It was filling and cheap. It is often said that no one actually goes out to buy the ingredients to specifically make a minestrone. A minestrone is often made using the leftovers from other dishes.

Whatever is said about this soup, some people love the minestrone, others need time to develop a taste for it and others - well they never find solace in a soup made from leftovers.

As for me - I make minestrone whenever I feel like it. Yes, I do go out to buy my ingredients specifically for a minestrone, but I will often add vegetables I already have in my fridge into it too. I also almost always top the minestrone with a large dollop of Pesto alla Genovese - freshly made of course. Because we all know by now that the stuff one buys in those jars simply does not taste as good as the homemade pesto, made with fresh basil leaves and high quality olive oil.

My minestrone here is made with potatoes, carrots, parsnips and tomatoes. I also added a bit of kale I had in the fridge. I like the wonderful flavor it gives the soup - sweet and full-bodied. I personally prefer pasta in my minestrone. Rice, in my opinion, just does not fit into this soup. However, my taste is always developing, evolving and discovering new things everyday. So, I could be experimenting one day in my kitchen and find the perfect match for rice in the minestrone.

One pot + many ingredients = one-dish dinner! That's you challenge this month. I am looking for innovative and creative one-dish meals. These can be casseroles, cooked in a crockpot, in a pressure cooker or in a baking dish. Whatever you are using you need to stick to the one cooking dish. So, come on over to February's mingle with your favorite One-Dish Dinners.

You'll find all the necessary details to this month's Monthly Mingle here.

Deadline: March 10th, 2008

Don't forget to send me your links to your fresh, crispy, juicy winter produce. Eat Fresh is a seasonal event, which attempts to bring people to share their weekly fresh produce with each other. So, all you need to do is take a picture of your weekly fresh vegetables and fruit, post it on your blogs, send email to [email protected] and you will get an invitation to join our growing Eat Fresh list.

Heather of Gild the Voodoolily buys fresh arugula, Chinese kale, mushrooms and so much more. Just check out her gorgeous and colorful looking fresh produce collection!

Deadline: March 31st, 2008

Printable version of recipe here.

150 g dried borlotti beans - soaked overnight in 1 l unsalted water
3 potatoes - diced
4 carrots - diced
3 parsnips - diced
120 g kale - roughly chopped
2 onions - finely chopped
4 tomatoes - roughly chopped
50 g bacon - diced (optional)
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 bay leaf
Large handful flat leaved parsley - chopped
2 l vegetable stock
200 g pasta
Salt and pepper
Few shavings of Pecorino cheese to decorate

Place the beans along with the soaking water in a pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 1 hour, until soft. Alternatively, use your pressure cooker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Sauté for 3-4 minutes.

In a pan heat the oil and, if using, sauté the bacon until crispy. Add the onions and all the vegetables except for the tomatoes, kale and beans

Now add the tomatoes, parsley, bay leaf and pour in the vegetable stock. Bring to a rolling boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain the beans and then add to the soup. Cook for a further 15-20 minutes. Finally add the kale and allow to heat through for 3-4 minutes.

Cook the pasta in a separate pot according to the instructions on the packet. Drain, then add to the soup.

Serve on pre-warmed soup bowls with a sprinkling of grated Pecorino cheese and a large dollop of Pesto alla Genovese.

Tip: I prefer not to add the entire pasta to the soup. I normally place a handful of pasta in the plate then ladle the soup over it. This is basically because, if there are any leftovers to the soup, I hate having mushy over-cooked pasta in my soup when I re-heat it.

This is always a great pleasure to indulge into. Both Tom and Soeren also totally enjoy this soup. I make several variations to this soup, depending on the vegetables I get at the market or in my CSA box. Each time, I enjoy experimenting with flavors and aromas of different vegetables and herbs.

Hope you too enjoy this soothing soup too.

All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2008 Meeta Khurana unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First

Frank Sinatra Eats Italian

Frank Sinatra, both the greatest singer and greatest entertainer of the 20th Century. No question. Sinatra was a legendary icon whose star still shines bright. He was a musical icon, celebrity, international personality, and to millions of Italian-Americans he was our own, a paisan. Frank was an Italian-American whose ancestry is from Genoa on his mother’s side of the family and Sicilian on his father’s side. And being Italian, Frank loved the food he grew up with, Dolly made a mean Marianara Sauce as well as Meatballs and the all-time Italian-American favorite Sunday Sauce (aka Gravy). Frank loved the food of his childhood the Spaghetti & Meatballs, Stuffed Artichokes, Pasta Fazool, Frittata, Eggplant Parmigiana and all the usual suspects of the Italian-American table. It’s a well known fact that Frank’s favorite restaurant was Patsy’s on 56th Street in New York … When Frank went to Patsy’s his favorite dishes were Calms Posillipo and Veal Milanese with a nice plate of Spaghetti Pomodoro in-between, and maybe a slice of Cheesecake to finish if Frank was in the mood.

Minestra di broccoli e arzilla (Skate and Romanesco Broccoli Soup)

I lived in Rome for over ten years, but in all that time, minestra di broccoli e arzilla,or Skate and Romanesco Broccoli Soup, somehow passed me by. I belatedly discovered this homey soup only recently, while perusing some old cookery books I picked up there years ago. Better late than never…

Like many Roman classics, this humble soup is quite simple to make: you start with a broth made from the skate, which is added to the Romanesco broccoli which you’ve begun to sauté with a tomato-tinged soffritto. Everything simmers together until the broccoli is tender, then pasta is added to the pot and the simmering continues until it, too, is tender. The skate is shredded and added to the soup. It’s a unusual, even seemingly odd, combination of flavors, but it does work, and works very well.

Minestra di broccoli e arzilla makes a nice primo, or first course, for a traditional Christmas Eve fish dinner.


For the initial simmering of the skate:

  • 500g (1 lb) skate
  • A medium onion, cut in half
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into lengths
  • A sprig of fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper

For the soffritto (flavor base):

  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • A spring of parsley, finely chopped
  • 1-2 anchovy fillets
  • A peperoncino, or a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • 3 or 4 canned tomatoes (about 100g/3-1/2 oz)
  • 1 head of Romanesco broccoli (see Notes), cut into small flowerets
  • 250g (1/2 lb) spaghetti, broken into short pieces
  • Salt and pepper


Simmer the skate with the aromatics in enough water to cover everything well for about 30 minutes. When the skate is the cooked remove it, drain it, set it on a cutting board and shred it, taking care to remove any bits of cartilage. Strain and reserve the broth, discarding the aromatics.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, gently sauté the garlic, parsley and anchovy in olive oil until the garlic is just beginning to slightly brown and give off its aroma. Add the tomatoes, crushing them between your fingers as you drop them into the pot. Let simmer until the tomatoes have melted into a saucy consistency.

Add the Romanesco flowerets to the pot, mix them gingerly so they’re covered with the tomato sauce. Let everything simmer together for a few minutes, then add the strained skate broth to the pot, topping up with water if needed. Continue simmering for a few minutes more, until the flowerets are nearly tender and you have a rich tasting broth. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Add the spaghetti pieces and continue simmering. When the spaghetti is cooked, lower the heat and add the shredded skate for a few moments, just long enough to re-heat. (The delicate flesh is liable to fall apart if you let it cook any longer.)

Serve immediately. If you like, reserve a bit of the skate for garnish, along with a sprinkling of minced parsley. A drizzle of best quality of olive oil wouldn’t be amiss.

Notes on Minestra di broccoli e arzilla

This light but flavorful soup is made from two rather unusual ingredients: The first is skate, a flat bodied, cartilaginous fish with large “wings” called arzilla in Roman dialect and razza in standard Italian. It was once thought of as a ‘garbage fish’ but now quite trendy—you could think of it as the quinto quarto of seafood.

The second is Romanesco broccoli, also known as Roman cauliflower, Romanesco cauliflower or just Romanesco, which the Romans simply call broccoli. It looks and tastes like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower—and a bit of space alien:

The texture is quite close to that of cauliflower, so you can treat it as such if you want to cook with it, although it can stand in for broccoli or broccoli rabe in many recipes. I think it pairs particularly well with pasta and makes a fine vellutata, or cream soup, on its own

Instead of ingredients given here, the soffritto also could be the usual ‘holy trinity’ of onion, celery and carrot. It would likely give you a milder flavor profile, if you like that. Personally, I don’t care for the sweetness of carrots in fish dishes.

Instead of adding the shredded skate to the soup itself, some people reserve the skate as second course, dressed with lemon, parsley and olive in the manner of baccalà lesso. Whether you want to is up to you, and the quality of the skate.

Green Beans with Parmesan Cheese

It’s Saturday morning, August 5th and I’m sitting on an airplane writing this post. I’m bound for Baltimore to visit the younger of my two nephews and his wife and their son. I have meetings in Washington, DC on Monday and Tuesday so I’m taking this opportunity to visit.

The family members and relatives with whom I am closest are scattered around and I don’t see enough of any of them.

What does all of this have to do with green beans, you might ask?

Food is my connector. It connects me to people and places. It evokes memories. It helps to create new ones. It’s a set of shared experiences.

I can’t make my mother’s long-simmered tomato sauce without evoking a slew of memories. My strongest olfactory memory from childhood is being gently awakened by the smell of garlic sizzling in olive oil on Sunday morning as my mother began to make tomato sauce for that day’s dinner. This is the sauce I am making on Sunday at my nephew’s house.

Most recipes that enter my repertory do so because of their connection with people and places. They document my personal history in edible form and cement memories of good times shared with family and friends. Many are family recipes, mine or those of people I know. Some are not, like the Italian Walnut Crostata I created to replicate one I had sitting at a little bar in Venice drinking grappa with my father-in-law in 1996.

That crostata has family connections of a sort. One of the favorite non-Italian desserts in our family is nut roll, brimming with ground sweetened walnuts and encased in just enough lightly sweet yeasted dough to hold it together as it is rolled and baked. While nut roll is more of a Central and Eastern European dessert, it was common in Johnstown, Pennsylvania where I grew up with people from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds.

My Aunt Margie’s nut roll filling is flavored with citrus, hewing toward the Italian, while my mother’s has milk and honey, pointing more towards Eastern Europe. I suspect, though cannot prove, that my Aunt Margie’s filling is more like her mother’s (my Italian grandmother) and my mother’s is more like my father’s mother’s (my Slovak grandmother).

Nut roll is a pastry that I truly miss but it is challenging to make and I have never tackled it despite having my mother’s and my Aunt Margie’s recipes. Except for the one time my cousin, Donna, made it and sent me some and the two times that Michael Alcenius sent me some he made using my Aunt Margie’s recipe, I have been in a nut roll blackout since Aunt Margie died.

The walnut crostata was a revelation. There, in an easy-to-make Italian sweet pastry crust (pasta frolla), was a filling of sweetened, ground walnuts. It wasn’t nut roll but it certainly evoked all the right taste sensations.

I used my husband’s Great Aunt Fidalma’s recipe for pasta frolla and Aunt Margie’s recipe for nut roll filling, to create a dessert that is both reminiscent of that night shooting grappa with my father-in-law in Venice and that preserves recipes from my family and my husband’s family.

Now that I’ve gotten my mouth (and maybe yours) watering for walnut crostata, we’re going to make green beans! I hope, though, that you have a better understanding for the reason this blog exists: to document and preserve traditional recipes along with some sort of a personal story or vignette.

Having just said that, I can’t tell you precisely where this recipe came from but it’s been in my repertory for decades. It is the essence of simplicity, a hallmark of much of Italian home cooking. It also lends itself to being made almost exclusively in advance, making it a perfect dish for a last-minute put-together when entertaining or making a more complicated main course.

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Mother's minestrone alla genovese recipe - Recipes

grew up eating meatballs – but this was not due to having a grandmother hailing from Italy. On the contrary, it was the result of having a Danish/Swedish grandmother on my mother’s side of the family. My Grandmother Stave had a knack for making anything taste good. I’m sure this had something to do with raising six kids during the height of the Great Depression. Her specialty was comfort food. She could make the cheapest roast from the market as tender as butter. Her secret was to bake and baste for sometimes up to 24 hours. Her mashed potatoes were a thing of wonder fortunately a culinary gift that was passed on to my mother -- of course, doesn’t everyone’s mother make the best mashed potatoes. My favorite dish of hers, though, was her meatballs -- a legacy handled down to her from her Danish ancestors.

The meatball is an iconic food item known throughout the world. The ancient Roman cookbook Apicius included many meatball-type recipes, but today they are known in Italy as polpette. In Greece, fried meatballs are called keftédes, usually served over rice while in Indonesia, meatballs are referred to as bakso, used in soup. The other Scandinavian versions in Norway (gehaktbal) and Sweden (köttbullar) are most often made with beef.

My grandmother's meatballs, known in Denmark as Frikadeller, are made with pork, generally served with mashed potatoes and gravy (which my grandmother referred to as ‘the goodness.’) I was in comfort food heaven long before the term existed. On a recent trip to Copenhagen, I couldn’t wait to sample this sublime but simple dish on its home ground. And sample I did having them with mashed potatoes, sliced on open-faced bread (smørrebrød), and even carrying a bag around as a snack. Now I know why the Danes are reportedly the happiest people on the globe.

Frikadeller are typically fried, and made out of ground pork, onions, eggs, salt and pepper. They are then formed into balls and flattened somewhat, so they are pan ready.

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 slice bread soaked in 1/4 c. milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. sage
  • 1/4 tsp. all spice
  • 1/8 tsp. onion salt
  • Chop the onion into fine pieces, and mix meat and onions together.
  • Add egg and mix again.
  • Add flower, and remaining ingredients.
  • Form mix into 6-8 balls.
  • Melt butter on frying pan.
  • 10 min. on each side medium heat.

Frikadeller can also be served with boiled skinned potatoes with brown gravy, or with cold potato salad.

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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6


Minestrone soup is a colorful Italian soup full of hearty vegetables and pasta! This recipe is an easy plant based dinner or lunch recipe.


  • 1 medium onion (or leek)
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 small zucchini squash (or 1 to 2 cup s of other chopped vegetables)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon s tomato paste
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 28 -ounce can diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon eachdried oregano and thyme
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 cup pasta shells or spirals (gluten-free or legume pasta if necessary)
  • 3 cup s baby kale (or spinach or other chopped greens)
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Fresh parsley, for garnish
  • Optional topping: Parmesan cheese, basil pesto or vegan pesto


  1. Prep the vegetables: Peel and small dice the onion and carrots. Small dice the celery. Mince the garlic. Small dice the zucchini.
  2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery and tomato paste, and cook for 5 to 6 minutes until the onions are just translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the vegetable broth, tomatoes and juices, water, zucchini, bay leaf, white beans, oregano, thyme, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring it to a simmer, then cook 10 minutes on medium low.
  4. Add the pasta and cook until pasta is just al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the baby greens for a few seconds until wilted. (If you’re using tougher greens like mature kale, chop them and add them in the last 5 minutes of the cook time.)
  5. Remove the bay leaf. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Taste and add fresh ground black pepper and more kosher salt to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley (or optionally add Parmesan cheese shavings or basil pesto or vegan pesto).
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: Minestrone Soup, Italian Soup, Italian Recipes, Easy Minestrone

Italian Recipes For Americans Rare 1918 Cookbook 33 Pages Printable or Read on Your iPad or Tablet

Мы не просто торговая площадка для необычных вещей, мы сообщество людей, которые заботятся о малом бизнесе, людях и нашей планете.

Мы не просто торговая площадка для необычных вещей, мы сообщество людей, которые заботятся о малом бизнесе, людях и нашей планете.

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The housewives of the old world have much to teach us
in thrift, especially in the kitchen. Italian cooking—
not that of the large hotel or restaurant,
but the cucina casalinga of the little roadside hostelry
and of the home where the mother, or some deft handmaid
trained in the art from infancy, is priestess at the tiny
charcoal stove is at once so frugal and so delicious that we
do well to study it with close attention.

If you have ever sat at a snowy table in the garden of
some wayside inn in the Appennines, a savory dish of risotto
before you and the music of the mountain torrent far below
in your ears or sipped a zabaione in the portico of a cafe on
the sun-baked piazza, of some brown old town clinging to a
hillside of Umbria or eaten fritto misto on a pensione terrace
overhanging the sapphire Gulf of Naples, one of those
inimitable haunts of comfort kept by a handsome Italian
dame who served her apprenticeship in Anglo-Saxon ways as
an English lady's maid if any of these experiences have
been yours you do not need to be convinced of the inimitable
charms of the Italian cuisine.

My Personal 100% Guarantee To You

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Minestrone alla Milanese

Minestra di Cipolla alla Francese

Minestra del Paradiso

Zappa di Fagiuoli

Zuppa Sante

Cappelletti all' uso di Romagna

Risotto alla Milanese I

Risotto alla Milanese II

Risotto coi Piselli

Fagiuolini in Salsa d'Uovo

Sedano Fritto

Sedano per Contorno

Cavolfiore in Umido

Giambotto alla Napolitana

Melanzana in Umido

Tortino di Melanzana alla Parmigiana

Stufato di Patate

Sformato di Fagiuolini o Piselli

Stampa di Spinaci

Pasticcio di Polenta

Polenta Pasticciata

Spaghetti and Other Pastes

Gnocchi alla Romana


Tagliatelli o Pasta Fatta in Casa

Ravioli alla Genovese

Tagliatelle col Presciutto

Maccheroni alla Bolognese

Salsa di Pomidoro

Salsa Bianca

Salsa Piccante

Stufato di Baccala

Cottolette di Baccala

Frittura Piccata

Piatto di Carne Avanzata

Flam di Carne Avanzata

Stufato di Vitello con Maccheroni

Piccioni con Polenta

Stufato di Pollo

Pollo alla Cacciatora


Lesso di Pollo col Riso

Budino di Cioccolata

Monte Bianco, Dolce di Castagne

This scarce antiquarian book is included in our special Rare Books Recycled Series.

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Queen cucina: Anna Del Conte - Britain's indisputable authority on Italian cooking - shares a few of her top tips

Spaghetti should never go with bolognese, and salad should be tossed 33 times in its dressing.

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The woman regarded by Nigella Lawson as "beyond doubt, the best writer on Italian food" shook her head when describing the British approach to the cheap, tasty dishes of her homeland.

Yards of shelf-space in every supermarket are devoted to pasta and there may be a pizza parlour on every high street but we just don't get it. "The main lesson you've got to learn is simplicity," said Anna Del Conte. "It's important what you put in, but equally important what you leave out. Somehow, the British use more sauce with pasta than it needs and you tend to add too much parmesan. It should always be used with discretion."

Her interviewer, who applies parmesan with a notably heavy hand, felt a pang of recognition. I also discovered that I often use the wrong pasta shape for puttanesca sauce, the spicy quintessence of comfort food. "It may be all in the mind but I can't enjoy penne alla puttanesca. For me it's just the wrong shape." Spaghetti is fine for puttanesca but not for ragu alla bolognese. Like other foreign dishes the British have taken to their hearts, spag bol is a culinary solecism.

"A lot of Italian food actually came from America," Del Conte explained. "Spaghetti bolognese originated in New York. The clever immigrants put them together to suit American taste but ragu is never served with spaghetti in Italy. Spaghetti keeps the sauce on the outside, so it's better for oily sauces like pesto. Tagliatelle is more absorbing because of the eggs it contains, so it's ideal for meat ragu – but don't use too much.

For every 400g of dried pasta, there should be no more than 350g of meat ragu. In Britain, we have ragu with pasta. In Italy, it's pasta with ragu." Italians relish pasta for its own sake. Del Conte writes that "one of the best possible ways to serve linguine" is with the "simplest of all dressings": garlic, olive oil and chilli flakes.

I was speaking to this astute, youthful, restrained 88-year-old – Lawson describes her as "a cool Milanese" – before the launch of the third edition of her masterpiece, The Gastronomy of Italy (Pavilion, £30), which, as she says in the introduction, "has been thoroughly – I can truly say exhaustively – revised". Her two-year rewrite, combined with a reshuffle of the contents, has resulted in an addictively readable encyclopaedia/cookbook running to 500 pages.

Her knowledge and assurance are reminiscent of Elizabeth David, while her scope and flashes of humour bring to mind Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food. The Gastronomy of Italy certainly deserves a place alongside their magisterial works. Del Conte explained why she felt the urge to write this in-depth guide, which first appeared in 1987. "Unlike France, very little was written down about Italian food. It's all word-of-mouth. Ask an Italian about food and they know everything, though it's not always right."

Every page glitters with information, tips and background for the gastronomic Italophile. I learnt why my rendition of the Venetian classic risi e bisi (rice and peas) never matches the one I had near the Rialto bridge ("should be made with very young peas"), why the gorgeous Tuscan bean soup ribollita tastes even better with keeping ("it should be prepared a day in advance to allow the flavours to develop before it is reheated, hence its name 'reboiled'") and why the strands of my cooked spaghetti lack life after draining. (It does not have the requisite goccia or a drop of moisture: "Experts never drain through a colander but lift it out of the water with tongs. spaghetti should be quite moist when the sauce is added".)

In How to Eat, her great advocate Nigella Lawson writes that Del Conte taught her how to overcome the "invasively metallic" taste of tomato purée. Here's the advice in The Gastronomy of Italy: "[It] should be used sparingly and allowed to cook in the sauce for some time. A small amount of sugar helps the process."

If the British screw up the restrained harmony of simple Italian dishes through excess, there are areas where we underdo it. "In salads, there's a lack of oil and too much vinegar. It should be four parts of olive oil to one or two of wine vinegar or lemon juice," said Del Conte. "In Italy, we say you need four people to dress a bowl of salad. A generous person to pour the oil, a wise person to sprinkle the salt, a miser to add the vinegar and a patient person to toss it – 33 times is said to be the minimum. Where pasta dishes call for butter, I don't think you use enough. One chef was amazed at the amount I used."

Pasta al fuso, where the sauce is merely melted butter, "which may contain two or three sage leaves and a bruised garlic clove", is a favourite dish from her native Milan. Born in 1925, Del Conte grew up in a middle-class household, though her mother was a fine cook who instilled in her children an appreciation of the value of food. Del Conte still detests waste. "As children, we were not allowed to throw away the smallest piece of bread," she writes. "If we did, our fate in the next life would be to go around with a bottomless basket picking up all those crumbs thrown away by us and other wicked children."

Still a teenager, Del Conte had an eventful war, including two brief spells of imprisonment. As was pointed out when she appeared on Desert Island Discs, not many of today's food writers have been strafed by machine-gun bullets. In her autobiography, she recalls diving into a patch of nettles to avoid the fire from allied aircraft. "I often remember that burning sting when I go out, here in Dorset, to collect nettles to make one of my favourite spring dishes – risotto with nettles."

Del Conte came to England as an au pair in 1949, married and started writing about food in the Seventies. Her late husband, Oliver, was "the ideal taster and tester. He did not have a very discerning palate. If he described a dish as 'rather bland' I knew it would not be appreciated by the average English eater." According to Del Conte, the Italian condiment company Sacla increases the quantity of garlic in its pesto destined for Britain. Contrary to popular belief, she says, "the Italian use of garlic is very moderate".

Though this diminutive figure was given the magnificent title Ufficiale dell'Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana in 2010 for informing the British about the true taste of Italy, she admits that her television trials were "a disaster. so I had to delete a few noughts from the books I was likely to sell and many pounds from my bank account". When I asked Del Conte how she felt about the chains like Carluccio's and Jamie's Italian spreading across Britain, she answered with her customary finesse. "They're not perfect, but they are popularising simple dishes and that's the main thing. They are quite good for what they are – perfectly decent."

What's the best pizza she's ever had in this country? "To tell the truth, I eat food in particular places. I'm very subject to atmosphere. Of course, I eat pizza in Naples, but here, very seldom. When I go to Pizza Express with my grandchildren, I like the simplest pizza, a margherita. I'm very old-fashioned in my food tastes."

Italian restaurants may be more commonplace here, but the very idea would be baffling to Italians. "Italian food only exists abroad," said Del Conte. "In Italy, we always think of the food of a certain region. The cooking of Milan and Naples are utterly different, but items have spread across the country, such as Genovese focaccia and Sicilian arancini. It's still nice to go where dishes came from and eat the original version. The best recipe comes from where the ingredients are best.

The red mullet of Livorno is better than anywhere else – that's why triglie alla livornese [red mullet in tomato sauce] is so good. The same applies to the clams of Naples in spaghetti alle vongole and Venetian scampi in risotto di scampi. You find the best risotto near the rice fields of the Po valley. The best basil is grown in Liguria, which explains why pesto came from that region."

Until 30 years ago, she says, pesto was virtually unknown in nearby Lombardy. "We always had pesto made with the mild olive oil of Liguria when we > were on holiday." Her entry for this now-ubiquitous sauce suggests a yearning for the days when it was a rare treat. Ligurian basil is "sweeter yet more aromatic than anywhere else thanks to the perfect balance between humidity and hot sun. It is indeed odd that the only speciality from Liguria that genuinely needs a local ingredient should be the one that has travelled all over the world".

Understandably, Del Conte has a soft spot for the dishes of her Lombard homeland. Her favourite risotto is alla milanese, simply flavoured with saffron. "Not too much," she stresses. "In Italy, we use saffron powder that dissolves very easily. I always bring back some little envelopes of the powder."

Other homegrown favourites include minestrone (traditionally made with rice rather than pasta), snails simmered in white wine and served with fried bread ("utterly delicious") and a pork and cabbage casserole called cassoeula. The ingredients include two pig's trotters, one pig's tail (optional), one pig's ear (optional) and 250g pork rind. "In Italy, we say, 'The pig is like the music of Verdi – there is nothing to throw away'." (A somewhat more lyrical view than our 'everything but the squeak'.) Del Conte recalled her mother's rendition of this autumnal treat. "She normally cooked well but she did cassoeula extremely well. Every year, she didn't change it at all. It was practice and knowing what works."

The Gastronomy of Italy also finds room for the unconventional dishes that originated in Milan as part of the Futurist campaign in the Twenties to shock Italy. Devised by the movement's arch-polemicist Filippo Marinetti, fragolamammella consists of two mounds of Campari-tinged ricotta shaped like breasts. Half-hidden strawberries act as nipples. Del Conte writes, "The recipes worked and were not too bad, but I wonder if I enjoyed adapting them far more than my guests did in eating the dishes". The same thing happened to me when I made the startling strawberry breasts for an article on Futurist cuisine a few years ago. After nibbling a rosé bosom, my wife said, "Quite nice, though I prefer my Campari with soda".

The book draws tantalising, often unexpected recipes from every region of Italy. From Rome, Del Conte recommends spinaci alla romana (sautéed with sultanas and pine nuts) and the wonderfully named suppli al telefono, rice croquettes containing prosciutto and mozzarella (the cheesy strings are like telephone wires). Morseddu is a peppery dish of pork scraps eaten by Calabrian labourers for breakfast. Del Conte's recipe for panzanella, the deeply satisfying Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes, came from a neighbour of her holiday home near Sienna. Another Tuscan speciality is salviata, a sage-imbued egg custard. "But the sage has to be young and fresh," she said. "You have to wait for the spring."

"What about using imported herbs?" I asked.

"No, they taste totally different."

On page after page of The Gastronomy of Italy, there are dishes that urge the reader beyond the country's familiar fast food. Peperonata, a southern stew of pepper, onion and tomato, "is now popular everywhere. Excellent with a plain frittata. If any is left over, it makes a delicious sauce for spaghetti". Lamb in horseradish sauce may sound like a variant on our Sunday roast but it actually results from the Austrian influence on Friuli in north-east Italy. "It's very, very good. I'd forgotten how excellent it is."

Del Conte may seem a purist, but she is not implacable. Discussing the great Milanese veal dish ossobuco, she admitted, "It's a bit hard to find veal here. I'm afraid I do ossobuco with leg of pork. It's not proper but more tasty". Taste is everything. At one stage in our afternoon meeting, she offered coffee. Unthinkingly, I suggested cappuccino, strictly a morning drink for most Italians. "You mean espresso!" said Del Conte, and so I did. It was just perfect. Another case of less is more.

Publishers Text

A big, compendious, comfortable, informative and utterly engaging book, "Kitchen" brings us feel-good food for cooks and eaters, whether Express-style and exotic-easy during the week, or leisurely and luxuriating (in the spirit of How to be a Domestic Goddess and Feast) on weekends or for occasions. Divided into two parts - Kitchen Quandaries and Kitchen Comforts - Nigella gives us the wherewithal to tackle any situation and satisfy all nourishment needs. But real cooking is often about leftovers, too, so here one recipe can lead to another. from ham hocks to pea soup and pasties, from chicken to Chinatown salad. This isn't just about being thrifty but about demonstrating how recipes come about, and giving new inspiration for last-minute meals and souped-up store cupboard suppers. As well as offering the reader a mouthwatering array of new recipes, both comforting and exciting - from clams with chorizo to Guinness gingerbread, from Asian braised beef to flourless chocolate lime cake, from Pasta alla Genovese to Venetian carrot cake - Nigella rounds up her kitchen kit must-haves (telling us, too, what equipment we don't need) and highlights individual ingredients - both basic essentials and modern-day life-savers. But above all, she reminds the reader how much pleasure there is to be had in real food, and in reclaiming the traditional rhythms of the kitchen, as she cooks to the beat of the heart of the home, creating simple recipes to make life less complicated.

Watch the video: Minestrone alla Genovese


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