It’s December, so it seems like minestrone would be a great idea, but temperatures hit the mid-seventies the other day. Nonetheless, I made my first minestrone of the season. As is the case for most Italian recipes, it is simple, it just takes some planning and time. I started by getting some dried northern beans and soaked them for 24 hrs. Today, I boiled them with garlic cloves and sage. Once they were cooked, I was ready to do the rest. I started by washing and chopping all of the other vegetables. But, before I get into the details of minestrone, I think it would be a good idea to talk about the ongoing rivalry between minestrina and minestrone. Both derive from the word minestra, which means broth. In Italian, conveniently, you can add a suffice to further describe a noun:
INO/INA: for small (masculine/feminine)
ONE: for big (same for both masculine and feminine)
ACCIO/ACCIA: for bad (masculine/feminine)
ETTO/ETTA: for small, cute (masculine/feminine)
So, Minestrina translated literally would be: little broth - it actually refers a very liquid broth.
Minestrone literally would mean a big broth – but it actually refers to a broth with chunky vegetables.
BTW, since there is no appropriate suffix for thick, creamy, there is a completely different work for a thick creamy soup: Zuppa.
Back to minestrina and minestrone. Truthfully, minestrina really gets the raw deal. It is considered the soup you eat when you are recovering from an illness (and often is served in hospitals), but in reality, I don’t think the Italians actually admit how often they really eat minestrina! It really is a perfect first course, that doesn’t fill you up too much -so you have plenty of room for the second course!
I first became acquainted with minestrina when I was in Florence for my junior year abroad. My host family was the Begnini family (no, not the actor’s family!), Gabriella, my host mother was an excellent cook and I enjoyed everything she prepared for us. But, without fail, every evening her husband would want a bowl of minestrina with a pastina (served with such as Acini di Pepe) instead of whatever delicious first dish Gabriella had prepared. I never understood this choice - why in the world would you choose broth over homemade ravioli or some other delicacy?
And, now 35 years later….and the age of my host parents, we do almost the same thing! We have minestrina very often during the winter, before a main course. We suffered through the years of eye-rolling from our kids when we would announce “la minestrina è pronta” (broth is ready)…but who knows, maybe one day they too will be serving it on a regular basis.
Last night we skipped the minestrina and went for minestrone (which in my mind, with maybe a little cheese appetizer, is a full meal)!
You can click here for my recipe - otherwise maybe you have your own recipe, just remember a few fundamental rules regarding minestrone:
Don’t use frozen vegetables
Don’t add any bouillon - enjoy the rich flavor provided by the medley of vegetables
Add crust of parmigiano cheese to the pot
It’s no wonder that the Italians have a saying ready to share with reluctant children who complain when dinner starts with minestra:
O mangi questa minestra o ti butti dalla finestra!
which means: eat this broth or jump out the window (it works better in Italian because it rhymes!).
Anyway, best wishes for a winter filled with delicious bowls of minestra, minestrina or minestrone!