Ask any person from Calabria over the age of 50 to describe a dish from the region that both represents the best and worst of the southern most province in Italy and s/he would probably utter, “minestra.” That is to say, minestra (a type of thick soup with a substantial base including potatoes, vegetables, beans, tomato pieces, etc. <minestrone is a variation of minestra>) represents both 1., the ideal form of a hearty meal with the strong presence of seasonal vegetables and 2. a poorer time in the region’s history when “soup” included only water, salt, stale bread, garlic, and olive oil. In fact, minestra was really poor man’s soup; that is to say, it was often served as the only item during a given meal. Minestra is also a universal term referring to a first course of vegetables, beans, pasta or rice prepared in a stock and as hubpages states, Risotti and pasta dishes such as spaghetti alla vongole (clams) are sometimes referred to as minestre asciutte or “dry” minestre. Our version of of minestra is Minestra di Fagiolini Verdi (Romano Bean Vegetable Soup)
Times have changed in Calabria (for the better, in most circumstances) but most Calabrians still yearn for a well prepared minestra. Minestra is also a staple meal in our American kitchen and we often consume the soup once per week during the summer, and early Fall, months. Minestra differs from “zuppa” or soup and generally doesn’t contain a large amount of broth (that is to say, minestra is rustic in nature and contains no meat based broth).
We usually serve the dish as a “primo” or first course and thereafter prepare fish or a small piece of meat for a “secondo” or main meal.
Minestra is very easy to prepare and the only rule to follow is that the vegetables should be cooked completely (this adds to the flavor profile of the dish). Here are the ingredients and process:
- 1 onion, diced into small pieces
- 2 carrots, diced into small pieces
- 2 celery stalks diced, diced into small pieces
- Bunch of coarsely chopped basil
- 2.5 cups of Romano beans
- 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup of coarsely chopped, peeled and seeded, tomatoes
- 1 chopped, and peeled, potato
- 1 cup of cannellini beans (optional and if not using Romano beans)
- 1 cup chopped zucchini (optional)
- Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil and place the ingredients (except the tomatoes and basil) in a large pot. Cook the ingredients for about 9-10 minutes (both the potatoes and beans should be well cooked).
- Next, add your tomatoes and basil and simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Add salt and pepper to taste and let cool to room temperature if you’re preparing the dish during the summer months.
- The total cooking time is about 15-20 minutes Add olive oil at the end of the cooking process and enjoy with fresh hot pepper, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and crusty bread. You could, of course, add pasta to the dish for a more substantial, single course, meal.