A ‘Minestra’ Story: Fresh Borlotti Soup with Homemade Buckwheat Maltagliati Pasta

When I was little, one of the most frequent words I’d hear from my grandma was ‘minestra’.
To her, ‘minestra’ summed up the very meaning of a meal: it meant pasta, and it meant legumes, or sauce to go with them, all mixed in one earthy, steamy bowl. It could be a simple bowl of pasta with tomato sauce, or a bowl of thick soup with little pasta like orzo or ditalini that is so often fed to kids, or a simple dish of stock with, again, small pasta, some Parmigiano and a touch of extra virgin olive oil.
This is what it was for us kids.
For adults, ‘minestra’ verged on some more intense flavors: any thick stew of grains, beans and vegetables could be called minestra, and, back in the ’50s when times were tough, just anything that they could put on their plate was called minestra, and that was a word to give blessings to.
Nowadays, the word ‘minestra’ is used to indicate any liquid, chunky soup that usually contains pasta or other grains, but they way my grandparents used that word always stuck to my memories. Borlotti Soup with Homemade Buckwheat Maltagliati Pasta | Hortus Cuisine

Buckwheat Tagliatelle | Hortus Cuisine

These buckwheat tagliatelle will be in the Hortus cookbook!

Some of the most famous ‘minestras’ include Tuscan Minestrone, Chickpea & Pasta Stew with Cabbage, and the recipe I am presenting here now is the queen of minestras: borlotti soup with maltagliati.
Soups such as this are extremely simple and do not call for any fancy ingredients. It might seem strange, but the amount of flavor it packs for so little ingredients is insane! It is so good and satisfying, it is one of the most loved vegetarian dishes by die-hard meat eaters. Borlotti were, and still are, addressed as the ‘poor man’s meat’ as they provide nourishment with a nice bite and deep flavor. Maltagliati is maybe the ‘cheapest’, so to speak, kind of pasta there was: when all the classic cuts of pasta were done, the housewives would collect the scraps of dough, roll them up and cut it in a criss-cross pattern to make them look a bit prettier. The word maltagliati roughly translates as ‘cut in an irregular fashion’, and, in fact, the point of making this pasta is that it shouldn’t look that pretty at all. Nowadays maltagliati are one of the most famous cuts of fresh pasta for soup, and one of the easiest to make at home (after all, the point is that they are not meant to come out perfect – quite the contrary).

Borlotti Soup with Homemade Buckwheat Maltagliati Pasta | Hortus CuisineBorlotti Soup with Homemade Buckwheat Maltagliati Pasta | Hortus Cuisine

The recipe calls for only half of the maltagliati you’ll get with the recipe below, but the other half can be used in countless ways: the smoky flavor of buckwheat is especially good in winter pasta sauces, especially those with cheese. You could use them to make this Chickpea Pasta with Cabbage, which is just as satisfying and totally vegan, or even use them for this Vegan Boscaiola Pasta Bake. Unleash your cold weather creative mind! If you like buckwheat, they will be good with pretty much anything.

Do you have a soup from you memories as a kid? What is a quintessential soup of your tradition?

Borlotti Soup with Homemade Buckwheat Maltagliati Pasta
Serves 4
Cuisine: Italian
  • ¾ cup whole wheat or spelt flour
  • ¼ cup buckwheat flour
  • ⅓ cup water, more or less
  • NOTE: If you have access to eggs from happy hens, and you do eat eggs, this pasta comes out a little better if using one egg instead of the water.
  • 10 oz. borlotti beans, fresh or dried
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup tomato sauce, or 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 to 4 cups vegetable stock, or more
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • Half the pasta recipe
  • 1 scant tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • To garnish: garlic olive oil or a sprinkling of grated cheese
  1. In a bowl, combine the flours. Knead adding the water a little at a time, until the dough comes together. The dough should be smooth and easy to handle, not too dry but not sticky. Adjust water accordingly. I cannot give an exact amount, as different flours react differently, but you will likely need at least ⅓ cup. Roll into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and let rest for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
  2. When ready, flour your workplace and flatten the dough with your hands. If you have a long rolling pin you can roll it out by hand, or you can use a pasta machine. The pasta should not be too thin - this kind of pasta for soup is best kept a bit on the al dente side.
  3. Whether you end up with a circular shape or with a long strip, generously flour the surface, and loosely roll one end of the dough into a cigar shape, stopping halfway. Do the same with the other half, like you would a piece of parchment. Cut ¼ inch sections crosswise. If you unfold your pasta now, you obtain tagliatelle. To make maltagliati, cut the dough again in diagonal, so that you obtain a diamond-shaped pasta. Spread it out on the work surface or on a floured tray, and let it dry for an hour or so. This makes it much easier to cook ad to handle in general. You can store any excess pasta in the freezer for later use, or use it with any of your favorite dressings like you would normal pasta. Maltagliati are especially delicious in winter preparations, like in Pasta with Chickpeas and Cabbage (see link above).
  1. Prepare the beans: add them to a pot with plenty of water, and boil until tender, about an hour. Depending on how fresh the beans are, and depending on the quality of the beans, they might take up to two hours. Do not add any salt. If boiling the beans is too much for you, skip the fresh beans and use 2 cans of good quality, salt-free canned borlotti beans.
  2. Add the olive oil, onion, carrot and celery to a pot, and stir-fry on low for 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce or paste, and stir fry for one more minute. Drain the beans well (or rinse them if using canned) and add to the pot. Add 2 cups of the stock, turn the heat to very low and simmer for about 40 minutes. Add more stock if the soup dries out too much. Everything needs to cook slowly, so the vlavor can develop and really shine. Add the pasta, salt and pepper, and boil until the pasta is cooked, about 5 more minutes. If it gets too thick before adding the pasta, add more stock - consider that the starch in the pasta will thicken the soup further. Though the soup should be rather stew-like, you can make it more soupy by just adding more stock. Finish with the chopped rosemary. This soup is great finished with a drizzle of garlic-infused olive oil or, if you are not vegan, a sprinkling of seasoned pecorino. A tablespoon of nutritional yeast stirred in is also a great idea. Enjoy as a main dish, with a green salad on the side.

Borlotti Soup with Homemade Buckwheat Maltagliati Pasta | Hortus Cuisine

  1. This is just so so beautiful, Valentina. I love all the process (and finished) shots. The feel of it is perfect for fall and somehow brings me to a more provincial life. I’m going to have to try this dish.

  2. This looks so comforting and delicious (and the photos are lovely)… I’ll try the version of the pasta with an egg!

    • Thank you so much, rRachel! Let me know if you try it. It’s much easier to work this dough with an egg, so I trust you will have no problem!

  3. What beautiful memories and such gorgeous shots. You really do evoke an epoch where people take time to make things well and right. I can only imagine how good this tastes. I’m going to have to to try it. The pasta looks amazing.

  4. Pasta and legumes together are one of my favorite combinations. I have had irregular luck with trying to make pasta at home, but I love that maltagliati is supposed to be irregular and imperfect. It sounds like I should try making pasta again.

    I did not grow up in a big soup eating household. As an adult I’ve learned to love soup. One of my staples through the fall and winter is to make a big pot of soup and throw in whatever needs to be used up. It’s perfect for quick lunches and late night dinners and gets better as it goes along.

    • Maltagliati are the ultimate lazy people pasta – whatever shape they turn out to be, it’s good. Realistically speaking, I guess that’s how most people make soup – open the fridge and throw in whatever’s in there! Same with smoothies…randomness leads to some really interesting experiments :)

  5. Minestra means so many things to me too, my Grandparents are Italian migrants living in Sydney Australia where I am writing from now, when I was little it meant boring Fave, Ceci, Piselli, Fagioli or just plain Brodo. I used to hate it and beg for Cheeseburgers.

    Now its so different, 20 years later those flavours are so very nostalgic and a bowl brings me back to my childhood, my Nonno is the one who cooks now, and Minestra means whatever is growing in his garden simmered together with parsley and tomato, along with sorry Valentina but a bit of Pork fat lol, its just the way they did things I guess and not much has changed. But who knew a bowl of beans and pasta could be so damn good, I never would of guessed I’d finally come around to it when I was 5 :)

    Lia; thesweetamande.wordpress.com

    • Ahah, so true, my grandparents and everyone their age still use pancetta or lard as a base for soups! I guess by this time they’re a bit too old to change that. It’s so cool to know that someone brought some Italian traditions all the way to Australia! I’m glad you eventually changed your mind about soup :)

  6. This soup looks absolutely delicious, and i have everything to make it so I’ll probably try it this weekend! The buckwheat maltagliati make me think about traditional pasta from Savoie called “crozet”, which are little and thick buckwheat pasta cut in regular rectangular shape. But I don’t know if they are made out of leftover pasta dough.
    I have many soup memories, because my mother cooked a lot of them as she really likes soup (and so di I, thanks yo her!), but my favourite one is that of a cabbage, potato, ham and beans soup that we call “garbure” and which is traditional from South-West of France. This is a soup my grandma makes in Winter, and actually I think it’s the only soup she makes (on a few occasion, I’ve also seen a pumpkin soup, with big chunks of pumkin and potatoes, and maybe cabbage too). It’s my mom favourite soup, and I like it very much too, especially now that I live far away from my faimily. Last winter, I asked her recipe to my grandma and I’ll make it many times this autumn and winter for sure! It’s a verey rich soup, a real peasant’s dish, the kind of soup that you reheat everyday on the stove and which gets better every day. Just a bowl of this soup and a piece of bread makes a meal. As a child, I used to be a bit picky about the cabbage and I only ate the broth, potatoes and beans (which, by the way, have to be what ve call “Tarbais” bean or “corn bean”, I think they are typical from my region, they grow using corn stalks as supports, and they are very big, white and creamy). But now I happily eat the pieces of cabbage, they have a slightly sweet taste that I love! I can distinctly remember the smell of that soup (which is the smell of cabbage… I think it’s the only happy memory of cabbage smell that I have!) when I entered my grandma’s kitchen in winter. I don’t know why but she never served us the soup when we came for lunch, she sometimes just said she had made some (which we know, thanks to the smell and the sight of the big pot on the stove!), so my mom, my brother and I would always grab white, scallopped soup plates with a golden rim and go help ourselves in the kitchen. I miss these times!

    • Nina, your comments are always the best! :D
      Nobody in my house would call the smell of cabbage a good memory, but oh well :) you brought back some memories, actually! I had garbure when I still wasn’t a vegetarian, and it was super good (though I can hardly stand the smell of braised ham now). My grandma used to have dishware with the gold rim as well, and so did most of her generation throughout Europe, I guess!

  7. The recipe looks delicious! And your photos are so beautiful, such a lovely light and details. In my house we always had soup for dinner, and for many years my grandmother was the one in charge of making it, it often involved using all sort of vegetables and was always topped with good olive oil. But my favorite soup was this dense chickpea soup, seriously dense, with a bit of added pasta and parsley. It was very rich and nourishing. I still love it today, specially in a cold winter day.

    • Hello Sonia, sorry for the late reply! :/
      Anyway, you could try going all-buckwheat and add a teaspoon xanthan gum. I am not an expert in glutenfree dough making, but last time I made glutenfree dough and added xanthan gum, it stretched out pretty well. Just knead vigorously before rolling out! Hope this helps!