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
Ingredients
FOR THE PASTA
  • 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.
FOR THE SOUP
  • 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
Instructions
MAKE THE PASTA
  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).
MAKE THE SOUP
  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

Summer in a Bowl: a Purple Italian Panzanella Salad

If you ever had an Italian ‘nonna’, or have ever visited an Italian farmhouse and had a peek inside the kitchen, you’ll know how there are several things you might find.
You might probably find a braid of garlic hung up next to the stove, or a bunch of rosemary hanging upside-down. You might find tomato stains on the hobs, or you might find constantly wet tea towels on the handle of the oven. You might find a wooden rolling pin and pasta cutters hidden in some closet, and, if you opened the cabinets, you might find jars of homemade jams.
You might find any number of these things, but there is one thing you will always, always find in every Italian farmhouse: stale bread, sitting patiently in its container waiting to be recycled.

Bread was too precious a thing to be wasted or tossed. Bread was always homemade out of whole wheat flour, and it actually took days to get really stale. Once it turned too hard to be consumed as is, it would be used for bread puddings, bread lasagna, or made into breadcrumbs.

Purple Italian Panzanella Salad with Sunflower Seeds | Hortus Natural Cooking - Italian, Vegetarian, Natural Food

 

Purple Italian Panzanella Salad with Sunflower Seeds | Hortus Natural Cooking - Italian, Vegetarian, Natural Food

The barn in my uncle’s vegetable garden.

Most importantly, bread was not the same thing it is today. Flour was stone-milled out of whole grains, which were naturally grown organic. Bread were dark, dense, nutty-smelling loaves, leavened with sourdough starter. It was the most genuine thing they had on the table. Funny how that was seen as a poor people’s thing, and they wished they had the regular, tasteless white bread that represented all those who had money to buy it.
As wealth increased, those natural, tasty, wholesome leaves disappeared from our tables, only to make its appearance again just a few years ago. I Italy, all that processed, canned stuff you could find on the supermarkets has been like a sort of tidal wave for the past 50 years, crashing over our life, drowning us, only to recede at the end, and now we’re left with the aftermath of this processed lifestyle calamity: increased rates of people who die of cancer, strokes, and other ailments. Bread is, unfortunately, the head of the line of processed foods, and is therefore demonized at the light of all the bad things it represents.

But bread deserves a second chance.
Learn to shop for flours (ever checked my guides here and here?). If you can, get and learn to care for a sourdough starter. Eat less bread – treat it like any other carb, do not use it to go with pasta and/or potatoes but use it singularly, and rotate it with your other carb sources, but choose the best you can find. Choose dark bread: rye, spelt, whole grain, enriched with seeds and split grains. Oven-baked is the best scenario possible. Choose it from a local bakery, and enjoy every bite of it.  I eat very little bread (all those with PCOS or any sort of ovary cyst should avoid it), but I make mine at home or shop for it wisely, and enjoy a slice about once or twice a week. I like to portion my bread and freeze the slices, so I can pull one out whenever I want.
I am not for demonizing bread as I am not for consuming it every day, with every meal. I am for choosing it wisely and avoiding white flours as much as possible.

There is a wonderful bakery in Cattolica that makes all sorts of whole breads. My dad is friends with the owner, and he often gifts us bags of leftover bread to feed the hens. More often than not, that day-old bread is still so good that my mom pulls out some pieces out of the bag and briefly reheats it, then dunks it in what is left over from her salad dressing. This is what my family would always make in the summer, when the heat was blistering and the only colors that seemed to exist were the gold of the haystacks and the red of the tomatoes: they made Panzanella. Panzanella is a simple salad made by letting stale bread soak for several hours in the fridge with tomatoes and onion, sometimes cucumber, dressed with vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, which mingle together and ooze the most flavorful juice on the bread. This recipe is a staple around the regions of Tuscany, Marche, and Umbria, as well as other parts of Southern Italy, where it is usually made with different kinds of bread.

Purple Italian Panzanella Salad with Sunflower Seeds | Hortus Natural Cooking - Italian, Vegetarian, Natural FoodPurple Italian Panzanella Salad with Sunflower Seeds | Hortus Natural Cooking - Italian, Vegetarian, Natural Food

This year, summer is being unkindly hot to us. Still, in spite of this blistering heat and the constant need to water every inch of greenery 3 times a day, our garden is thriving, its plants heavy with juicy produce. Panzanella is the perfect representation of high-quality Italian ingredients: wonderful stone-milled flour, the sweetest balsamic vinegar, and our beloved extra virgin olive oil. Plus basil, tomatoes and Tropea onions. I am proud to write this recipe for Expedia UK’s World on a Plate project and represent Italy, and I could not be more thrilled to join the party with this salad.
Seeing such a wonderful list of ingredients makes me so proud of my land. I hope that all of you who travel to Italy will try all these amazing things.

Purple Italian Panzanella Salad with Sunflower Seeds | Hortus Natural Cooking - Italian, Vegetarian, Natural Food

The road leading to our veggie gardens.

Purple Italian Panzanella Salad with Sunflower Seeds | Hortus Natural Cooking - Italian, Vegetarian, Natural FoodPurple Italian Panzanella Salad with Sunflower Seeds | Hortus Natural Cooking - Italian, Vegetarian, Natural Food

This Italian panzanella salad is exactly what we crave during these hot summer days: it is fresh, easy to make, and does not imply turning on any source of heat. Traditionally, panzanella is made with white wine vinegar, but I modernized it a bit and made it somewhat richer: I used balsamic vinegar instead, and added toasted seeds to amp up its nutritional value. Plus, I made it purple!! How cool is that?! I made it with the purple tomatoes and purple basil I’ve grown myself. This was the first year that I actually grew something of my own, and I cannot believe how large my tomato bushes have gotten!
The addition of fresh marjoram is my own, as I really like it. Pesto is also a great addition if you have an open jar in your fridge, but nothing to go out of your way about – we’re adding tons of basil anyway.

Modern Panzanella Salad
 
Serves 2 as a main
Ingredients
  • 150g (4 large slices) whole wheat or rye sourdough bread, one or several days old
  • 20 ripe, juicy cherry tomatoes
  • 1 medium-large cucumber
  • 1 small red onion (or more to taste)
  • 5 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 5 tbsp water
  • 15 medium basil leaves, finely chopped or torn
  • (extra) a small sprig of marjoram
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + 2 tsps, or more
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 tbsps toasted sunflower or poppy seeds
  • (extra) one tbsp of pesto, if you have some lying around
Instructions
  1. Soak the onion with water and 2 tablespoons of vinegar for a couple hours. This makes it less strong and easier on your digestion (but if you're really hardcore go ahead and add it straight to the bowl!)
  2. Add the bread to shallow dish. Whisk together the vinegar, the tbsp of olive oil and water and sprinkle over the bread. Leave to rest for half an hour or up to several hours. When ready, cut the tomatoes straight on the bread to avoid losing any of the juice. Add the cucumbers and loosely drained onion, basil, marjoram if using, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or for at least a couple of hours.
  3. When ready, toss well to break the bread and mix the ingredients in a bowl. Finish with the extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy as a simple main dish, or add some beans to make it more complete.

 

What is your favorite way of using up old bread? Do you have any special recipe? And what do you think about this whole bread situation?

 

Strawberry Cake with Rose Almond Custard – Mother’s Day & Virtual Flower Potluck!

There has always been this thing about the cakes my mom made: They were never too pretty or evenly-shaped, yet all those who had any one of my mom’s cakes could not revert to any other cake, even if they were from the best pastry/cake  shop. My mom always said that cakes must first and foremost taste good and always despised all the sugar coatings and butter glazings (I am not a fan myself). Yet, she could do wonders with whipped cream decorations: she could pipe out of her sac-á-poche ribbons, flowers and bows of every kind. So her cakes always looked gorgeous, even if they had a tendency to fall apart when sliced.

This is a very simple cake and one of the first she taught me to make. We experimented with this almond custard and not only it is delicious, but it is not too much on the unhealthy side. Though this cake does not exactly belong to the healthy realm, it is much better than many others nutritionally speaking: the only fat there is is in the eggs in the custard, and there are plenty of fresh strawberries to serve as topping. The sponge cake is made moist by a concoction made out of orange juice, rose water and berries. You can make this much prettier than mine and make it multi-layer of course. I’ll get better at making cakes look pretty, promise.
But for now, let me dedicate all this rosy goodness to the best woman I know, the woman who taught me everything I know and that there is never enough to learn. I am so proud and lucky to be a daughter of such an amazing human who makes such delicious cakes (even if they’re not the prettiest).

This cake was also meant to be a part of the Virtual Edible Flower Potluck hosted by Renée on her great blog – go check the full list! There are some truly gorgeous posts. I couldn’t make it in time, as I couldn’t be too active because of some life happenings. My dad was at the hospital but he’s fine! Still, we were all a little busier than usual. I also have not only one, but TWO great news to share on my next posts! So stay tuned!

Strawberry Rose Cake with Almond Custard | Hortus Natural Cooking

I am not giving the recipe for the sponge cake now – use your favorite recipe! Mine does not contain any fat.
In my family, we very seldom eat sweets or desserts. We have like, what – 3 or 4 cakes per year perhaps? And, though my mom is great at making desserts, she’ll hardly make one more often than once every month, or even less. This is why we never worried too much about making super-healthy desserts. We satisfy our weekly (or bi-weekly) sweet tooth at a local gelato shop that makes ice cream with the freshest milk and fruits and whole, organic sugar. So, since it’s only every once in a while, this cake is, well…just cake. We like moderation.
Use a Genoise base or a ‘Pan di spagna’ base (the japanese Castella works well too!) or use your favorite pie crust, tart crust, or whatever. The custard + strawberries is gonna work like a charm in any case!

Aaaaand…so happy to be back! I have been a bit MIA, I know. This post was meant to be ready a week ago, but I was on vacation for a couple of days, then my dad was at the hospital and we have been all a little busy with other things. He’s perfectly fine now! So I can get back to focus on blog things.
We have this stunning place very close to home. First you’re deep in the woods, and then you emerge to these beautiful paths leading to the promontory. Welcome to le Marche, people.

Parco Monte San Bartolo, Le Marche | Hortus Natural CookingStrawberry Rose Cake with Almond Custard | Hortus Natural CookingParco Monte San Bartolo, Le Marche | Hortus Natural Cooking

Strawberry Cake with Rose Almond Custard
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
For the custard:
  • 2 cups/500ml Almond milk (freshly made is best)
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 tbsp Potato Starch
  • 1 tbsp Flour
  • 3 tbsp Whole brown sugar or honey
  • Half a vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • The peel from half a large lemon (or one small)
  • 2 tbsp rosewater
For the syrup:
  • 3 heaped tbsp of honey
  • ¼ cup of freshly pressed orange juice
  • ¼ heaping cup frozen mixed berries
  • The vanilla scrap from the custard
For the assembly:
  • A --inch sponge cake (or -- if making double layer)
  • 1.5 pounds fresh strawberries
Instructions
  1. To make the custard, add the eggs to a pot and whisk them with the starch and flour. Turn on the heat to low, and whisk vigorously while adding the milk a little at a time, trying to avoid lumps. Add the whole vanilla bean and the scraped seeds, and the lemon peel. Keep whisking, but at this stage there is no need to whisk vigorously and you can take a break. As soon as the custard will start to smoke slightly, start whisking again. At this point it will start to thicken, and you will need to whisk with a little more energy. As soon as it thickens fully, turn off the burner and keep whisking very vigorously for another minute, then add the rose water. This process should grant you a smooth, lump-free custard. Once it's cooled, fish out the peel and vanilla bean. If you want an even stronger rose scent, add the rosewater once the custard is completely cool.
  2. While the custard cools, make the syrup: add to a small pot the honey, the freshly pressed orange juice, and the frozen mixed berries (though you can certainly make it with your favorite fresh berry). You can also add the vanilla scrap from the custard - just wash it well. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes, until reduced.
  3. Assemble the cake: distribute the syrup on the sponge cake base. You might not need all of it, just stop when you see that the whole area of the cake is lightly, evenly moist. Distribute a nice, thick layer of custard on top (again, you might not need all of it). Wash, dry and cut the strawberries in half. Arrange them in a pretty pattern on top of the custard, chill the cake for an hour before serving!
  4. If you want to make a double layer cake, moisten both sides of the cake on one side with the syrup (make a double batch just to be sure). Cut up some more strawberries to add in between layers, and mix them with half the cream. Add the rest on top and arrange the strawberries as indicated. You could decorate the sides with whipped cream or whipped coconut cream.
  5. NOTE: You can add some crumbled candied almonds to the custard! It will create the most pleasant texture!

Strawberry Rose Cake with Almond Custard | Hortus Natural Cooking

Cauliflower Chickpea Veloutèe Soup, and a Story from a Writer’s Life

‘I made a veloutèe soup with chickpeas and cauliflower yesterday, but I think I did something stupid in the process,’ said Enrico.
‘What happened?’
‘Well, I forgot to take out the lemon peel from the soup and I just blended everything. It tastes like lemon much more than I would have liked it to.”
As we walked around the old villa of Rio Salso, our steps flowed discreetly, just like the stream of water which surrounded that abandoned house. Its spluttering waters seemed to want to communicate a joyfulness that was left there from times long forgotten. Fabio Tombari’s villa, which sat on a sweet hill next to the river, was immense and beautiful. We looked at it speechless, swept away by its majesty.
Such immense beauty. the kind of beauty you just stare at in silence, like a woman you cannot even compliment, slack jawed as you are before her gorgeousness.
‘You should add some raw extra virgin olive oil. The sweetness of the oil balances out the sourness of the lemon.’
The silence in between our sentences brings us back to the quiet present of that undisturbed hideaway.
‘You know why this place is called Rio Salso?’ he asked.
‘Why is that?’
‘Because this river used to be quite salty and, in times of war, people would fetch its water to collect the salt.’
One time, when there was no more than two or three houses here and the land was covered in endless green, this used to be the house of a writer.

Chickpea Cauliflower Veloutée Soup | Hortus Natural Cooking Fabio Tombari's House, Italy

Fabio Tombari was famous in the ’40s and ’50s, and his family home was a sort of True North for many: travellers, friends, and random people came from all over the country to visit that friendly man, who took inspiration from all kinds of humanity to write his novels. His most famous book told the stories of all the human beings that came to visit him, of whom he could read the soul and hear the heart.
I imagine their life, in that patch of land immersed in nature: Fabio would walk the uphill road that led to Belvedere Fogliense, a tiny village with the scraps of a castle sitting up on top of a hill, from which he could see the whole valley. As he walked up there alone for inspiration, his wife, Angela, tended the house with the servants (or friends) who lived there. Because Fabio was such an artist, he was often distracted, so the women of the house would take care of his business. But they also took care of cooking – what huge foodies they were! He even wrote a book about people who love food!
I imagined, as I looked at those abandoned tables and fireplaces, those same women all gathered together cooking simple yet nourishing dishes, like risotto and potatoes, and sit together at a huge table, drinking some nice red San Giovese wine. In the spring, Angela tended her rose bushes, so that the whole perimeter of the house would be covered in a glorious firework of pink-and-red blossoms. In the summer, when people from Milan came to visit with their kids, she would make large batches of fresh lemonade and call all the kids in town to play under the huge horse chestnut tree. When the time was right, many women would gather with her to make preserves and jams for everybody, picking cherries from the trees around the house.
Fabio saw this life flow, slow and beautiful. His writing turned that shining community life into something marvelous; his words were almost naive like a kid’s.

‘I sipped my lemonade, and I was 18 years old. I was lost in the sea of words of he who was the last firefly observer, and I imagined whose words come in and out of his books like dancing fireflies…
He never went to sleep without looking at the stars first. In the morning, the first thing he did was walk barefoot on the grass outside, to feel the early morning dew.’

Chickpea Cauliflower Veloutée Soup | Hortus Natural Cooking

That abandoned place was the home of a man who wrote about other men, feeling stupor before them. Such warmth was still in those walls! How difficult can a thing like that be, when we’re so busy focusing on egoism and complaint?
“As I approached from afar, I could always see some guest in the house in Rio Salso, especially on Sundays. Some of them were nice, some others positively less, and I asked my dad: ‘How can you stand everybody?’
And he answered, ingenuous and taken aback: “Well, Maria, there’s God within everybody!”

How much love can a man who sees a reflection of God in everything have – for life itself, and for everything that is part of it? And how sinful does it feel to abandon such a feeling, when the walls of this house still feel like they are exuding all of his love? How can you abandon such an ancient future etched on those walls?
Abandoning such love feels like an act of mindlessness, like averting the eyes from beautiful skies, or filling our time with pointless things – even with rotten things, and not with the presence of others. It is difficult to fill our time with silence, because silence is hard to stand. Only those with a strong bond can stand the silence, because they can understand each other without speaking. So, couldn’t love still exist even when not a word is said about it?
He watched the stars in silence, and he climbed the hill to Belvedere in silence. He lived in silence, because love needs space to echo.
The act of putting roses next to the window was one of Angela’s small acts of love. Though the short life of those flowers might have seemed useless, and their death was visible in the bushes of thorns that clung to our shoes, she could not give up such beauty, painful as it could be to see it go. She had – those who knew her said, random acts of kindness. Why did she, when sometimes it all seems so useless?
I think she did it to find something that could balance out the sourness in everybody’s souls. She used beauty to sweeten her life and other people’s. So all the beauty she scattered around like thousands of droplets of oil rained all around her, and dispelled the darkness of life, whole the salt of that rived deepened its taste.
I wonder if something like this could have been enough to fix that soup. I wonder if all it takes, at times, is nothing more than a drizzle of sweetness and a touch more flavor.

Sometimes, it’s not that complicated.

Go, and pick some fresh salad from the garden. I want to eat life!
I want to eat life.

The night closes onto Rio Salso’s Scenery. There is a large car dealer in front of the house, and a large factory stretches into the distance where the inhabitants of the village used to see endless fields.
Some birds still sing serenely into the growing darkness.

That night at 8 PM, I got a text:

‘I added raw extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley. This cauliflower chickpea soup rocks.’

Fabio Tombari's House, Italy

Post Scriptum
Enrico and I are also co-workers. The day after I made this soup, I packed a big jar of it to take to the office. Unfortunately, on Friday 6th, the coast of Romagna was hit by a severe weather condition, and our company, which is built right next to a river, had been completely flooded. Our office is right above the huge factory on the first floor and, even though our stuff was saved, we spent several hours sweeping muddy water off the first floor, and we found ourselves covered in mud head to toe in the effort to help as much as we could. Me and Enrico ate this soup together for lunch, sitting at the desk, and just talking and laughing about silly stuff of every sort. We were both dead tired by barely 4 PM, but, even though you couldn’t call it a good day, I can’t help but think of it very fondly.
This past weekend, me and Enrico hung out together and we walked that same path leading up to Belvedere. I am sure the view changed a lot in the meantime, but it sure felt like a very special trek.

Chickpea Cauliflower Veloutée Soup | Hortus Natural Cooking

Cauliflower, Chickpea & Rosemary Veloutèe Soup
 
Ingredients
  • A small head - 1lb cauliflower, divided into florets
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • A medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped
  • Enough vegetable stock to cover the ingredients
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 rosemary sprig plus some extra needles, chopped
  • 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
Instructions
  1. Start by preparing the cauliflower: wash the florets and drain. If using a whole fresh cauliflower, keep in mind that you can use the most tender leaves, too!
  2. Add the olive oil to a pot, along with the garlic and rosemary sprig. Stir-fry on medium until aromatic (about 3 minutes), then add the shallots. Let them cook, stirring often, until traslucent, about 5 minutes. If they stick, add a splash of stock to help them cook. Add the onion, and stir-fry until traslucent, about 10 more minutes. We want to use the alliums as a base to build flavor.
  3. At this point, remove the garlic.
  4. Add the cauliflower, enough stock to cover, and salt and pepper to taste (thi slargely depends to what kind of stock you are using, but you can adjust the amount of salt at the end).
  5. Cook, half-covered, until everything is tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

 VARIATIONS:
– You can omit the rosemary, and garnish each dish with some chimichurri to taste, or just a pesto of parsley and olive oil.
– Again, you can omit the rosemary and add a tbsp of curry powder to the initial stir-fry, and garnish with finely chopped parsley and some extra virgin olive oil.

Post Post Scriptum
I dedicate this post to Enrico himself, who is the light in my eyes (…at times) and one of my biggest sources of inspiration, and who totally made this post happen. Some of the pictures here were taken by him, including the beautiful view of the house right before the recipe.

Thanks to these sources for quotes and stories:
https://unpaesecentostorie.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/crocevia-della-luce-la-casa-del-rio/
http://www.lospecchiodellacitta.it/popup.asp?id1=6&Numero=0&IDAnno=0&Azione=Find&ID=437

Chickpea Cauliflower Veloutée Soup | Hortus Natural Cooking

A Menu For the Day of the Dead, & a walk through Le Marche

On November 1st, all the people who have any reason to visit a graveyard, will go and bring some flowers to the dead.
Though I am not a fan of those religious occurrences where you do this and that only once a year, this November we have been blessed by beautiful weather and hazy, fog-shrouded sceneries of orange-tinted trees and fields. It is also a time to cook and eat together, and gather for some family time.

A November walk through Le Marche Region, Italy

A November walk through Le Marche Region, Italy

Two dear people took me through many amazing places in the Le Marche region, of which I am incredibly fond of.
I live in an awkward zone. Gradara, with its beautiful castle, sits on the border between the Romagna and Marche regions, and things can get quite confusing. The dialects can be very diverse even within the very region, and foods, people and traditions change an incredible lot.
Le Marche, with its lush, dark green forests, medieval castles and villages on top of each hill, vast fields and wild beaches, has always been in my heart for many reasons. It was amazing to have the chance to visit three beautiful villages and learn something new (including two recipes that I had no idea about and that I would like to present to you in the future).
November is far from a cold, dull gray month in places like these.

This is just one part on what I saw this weekend. I am keeping the rest to share in the next post!
I went to a place called Corinaldo, and it was so, so pretty. And so large for a medieval village! Me and a friend took some pics. I am waiting to see his! He took quite a cool pic of me.

A November walk through Le Marche Region, Italy

The day after, me and my vegetarian coworker/friend went up to another small castle called Montefabbri. It is labeled as one of the most beautiful places in Italy, but it is so small, and nobody knows about it. The village per se is beautiful, but not nearly as beautiful as the skies that we saw from high up there.
It was so breathtaking I even forgot to take a picture.
The moments you forget to take pictures of are always the best.

These days count as a holiday, so here are two holiday recipes. The Ravioli with pumpkin, mushroom and Gorgonzola is out now on the Corriere website!

Fave dei Morti - Italian Almond Cookies for the Day of the Dead

But the real protagonists of this post are these cookies. They are very common throughout the whole country, but this version is especially popular in both my regions.
“Fave dei Morti’, the cookies of the dead, are crispy cookies that are usually only baked for November 1st and 2nd, when in Italy the days of the Dead and All Saints are celebrated. They are crispy and crunchy, and are usually meant to be eaten dipped in sweet wine, much like cantucci. They are, of course, also gorgeous dipped in coffee, tea, or any other liquid (even water, I daresay). the recipe varies a lot throughout Italy, and every region, bakery and family has its own version. Fave from Veneto, for example, are colorful little nugget dyed with food coloring. All of my coworkers can vouch for my mom’s version, as they happily devoured them and loved them – even dipped in the crappy coffee we have at work.
Make them healthier by using coconut or linseed oil, and by using some natural raw sugar like Muscobado or coconut.

Fave dei Morti (Almond Cookies of the Dead)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Makes many cookies
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • 100g Almond meal / flour
  • 100g Whole wheat flour (sub your favorite gluten-free flour for a GF version)
  • 50g Potato starch
  • 200 to 250g brown sugar (depending on your sweet tooth)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 80g softened butter, vegetable oil or coconut oil
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ to ½ tsp cinnamon
Instructions
  1. It is as easy as put all the ingredients in a food processor and mix until well combined, or mix everything in a bowl and knead to combine. You should end up with a sticky but stiff dough.
  2. Wrap it in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes or an hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 Cº / 355 Fº.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, take out the dough and form 1-inch sized balls. Line them on the tray, leaving some distance in between each other, as they will expand in the oven (much like chocolate chip cookies)
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and until your whole kitchen smells like candied almonds (this depends a lot on your oven - keep a close eye on it). Wait for them to cool before eating, as they will still be slightly soft fresh out of the oven, and might look like they are not 100% cooked.
  6. Serve with something to dip them in - preferably sweet wine, like Moscato or Vin Santo, but any dipping liquid will do, really. Even water, and I am not kidding.
  7. Enjoy!

What are your November traditions, and what are you cooking/baking this month?

Fave dei Morti - Italian Almond Cookies for the Day of the Dead