Best in January (and February and March): warming & comforting, healthy & hearty, with a bite & soft, topped with guaranteed luck and wealth*. More stew than soup, made from a colourful mixture of pulses: green, brown & red lentils, borlotti, cannellini, kidney & soy beans, black-eyed peas, green split peas, orzo (barley) & pearl barley which is sold in Italian groceries (I used this one from Marabotto) and cooks to an interestingly textured thick soup of softer lentils & peas while the various beans and the occasional barley pearl retain a little bite. I am quite sure other shops might stock it, too. If not, they definitely should. Otherwise, I think this provides a great opportunity to use up all the rests in your larders & cupboards: the tiny rest in the box of puy lentils, just not enough split peas for a large pot but handy here, the few last beans in the bag & other odds and ends and I am quite sure that is how this dish came about. So, pick & mix and make your own mixture with greater quantities of the smaller pulses and only a few beans in between.
I have bought this box a while ago (pretty food things in a nice package, the promise of approval by an Italian Grandmother really works for me) and it has been patiently waiting for the right day: It cannot get any greyer or more miserable outside than it is right here at the moment, so this was a real winner a few days (I might have told anybody who showed a slight interest in conversation how good it was and how much I liked it. Sorry about that, but it is good, really, really good).
The added bonus: there is hardly any work involved and everything could be prepared in the morning to be cooked when you come home. The pulses need to be soaked for a few hours (4 hours maybe and they do that on their own), then I started with a soffritto of the usual soup vegetables instead of the recommended onion, sweated them lightly in olive oil, thrown in the soaked lentils & Co. and added about ¾ litre of homemade chicken stock. Vegetable stock would be good, too, the chicken stock was a last minute decision (operation “Empty-the-freezer”) instead of the advised water, which is why mine went in as a solid block, no time to defrost. Cover with a lid and let it cook for 1 hour. Ready. How hard was that? Anyway, I am quite sure no grandmother would scold you for using bought stock or a cube or water (I can’t guarantee for my own actions though).
* I’d like to believe that the luck-thing will definitely work if you eat it on any day in the New Year, just in case you have missed out on your lucky lentil dish on New Year’s Day (Italians eat a lentil dish on New Year’s Day to secure luck and wealth for the coming year, same goes for black-eyed peas at Rosh Hashana and in the American South – double ka-ching). Other folklore assures financial luck if you keep a lentil or a scale of the Christmas carp (carp is a traditional Christmas dish in European countries like Germany, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic etc.) in your wallet, wait, while I add a Puy to the Euros.
Minestrone ‘della nonna’
this amount was good for 3 portions, double quantities for 6
250g (8.8 oz) Minestrone ‘della nonna’ or the same amount of any mixed pulses (see above for recommended mix & sizes)
1-2 stems of celery
0.75 litre (25.4 fl.oz; 3 cups) good (homemade) chicken or vegetable stock
salt & pepper
parmigiano reggiano, coarsely grated
Soak the Minestrone mix in water for a few hours, I left them for 4 hours but I do not think more or less will do any harm. Chop the carrots, leek and celery stalks into pea-sized chunks, dice the onion for a soffritto. Heat a splash of olive oil in a cast-iron pot, add the chopped vegetables and fry them lightly until fragrant. Add the drained pulses and stock, stir and cover with a lid. Cook on low to medium heat for 1 hour, stirring from time to time. Season with salt & pepper if needed and serve in bowls topped with a sprinkling of coarsely grated Parmesan and if you like: a drizzle of olive oil. Grazie nonna, buon appetito!