Pizza bread crisping in the wood-fired oven, earthy lamb "scotoditto" searing on the grill, espresso brewing. With the opening of the trattoria door, the smells are intoxicating. The rooms are cozy, soulful, slightly kitchy, welcoming. All manner of bits and bobs hang on the walls: pictures of family, movie stars, candelabras, crosses, plants, baskets, Mother Modanna. I am reminded of a toasty grandma's kitchen where home-cooked food is served alongside love, comfort and familiarity.
It is one thing to travel in Italy as a tourist, it is quite another saunter into local trattorias and pizzerias with locals who know waiters, owner, chef, best dishes and desserts. They order without looking at the menu, chat with the owner like they are best mates - at which point he will even join the table and tell a funny story. I don't understand a word, but laugh because the mood is jovial and homey. I feel welcomed into someone's home and personal life - an extension of the family's body and soul is the restaurant, the kitchen, the food.
One of Italy's most comforting dishes to me, and one that is served nearly everywhere in Italy, is the humble Minestrone: born out of the cucina povera, it was a dish that used all that could be found that was leftover (or as my mom likes to call "fridge soup"). Hearty, filling and cheap to make, minestrone means "big soup" to Italians and is usually filled with vegetables, wilted greens, beans, and sometimes small pasta.
For a quick and warming meal that will make you feel like you are in Nonna's kitchen, try Minestrone - and experiment with different vegetables, beans or pasta you may have handy.
2 stalks celery
2 garlic cloves
2 large potatoes, cleaned, cubed
3 tomatoes diced (or 1 can of diced tomatoes)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 can kidney beans
1 can cannelloni beans
3 cups swiss chard or other greens, thinly sliced
1/2 cup acini di pepe pasta (optional)
In a sauce pan, add 2 TB olive oil. Dice the carrots, celery, onion and add to the pan. Cook on medium until the vegetables are soft and starting to brown. Add minced garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add potatoes, tomatoes, chicken stock and rind. Let this simmer for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse.
Add the beans and pasta. Allow the pasta to simmer for 7 minutes. Add the swiss chard - the greens will wilt in the hot soup. Cook for 3 minutes.
Serve with pesto, bread and more olive oil. Buon appetito!