MINESTRA MARITATA, 2

Minestra Maritata is from Calabria. Maritata in the Calabrese/Calabrian dialect means married.

It is an odd name for a soup and as Danielle Alvarez says in the introduction of her recipe, it has nothing to do with marriage. I was very happy to see a version of Danielle Alvarez’ s recipe for Minestra Maritata in The Age (March 30/2024 ). Not many people have written about this recipe and what Alvarez has written adds yet another layer to this mysterious traditional recipe. Alverez has added meatballs (polpette) and this seems appropriate and the version I ate in Adelaide a number of years ago was also presented with polpette that were served separately.

I too have written about Minestra Maritata after I ate it in a small restaurant called Minestra in Adelaide and I enjoyed researching it. Mine is more  based for a peasant culture and is different, but then again there are bound to be local variations in all traditional recipes.

The article and recipe from: Danielle Alvarez, The Age (March 30/2024 ).

ALSO KNOWN as “minestra maritata” , this soup actually isn’t served at weddings; instead, its name refers to the beautiful “marrying” of flavours contained in the meaty broth, savoury meatballs, sweet vegetables and, of course, the pasta. Traditionally, this dish is made by first concocting a flavourful broth using chicken, beef and/or pork bones, then adding very small meatballs, pasta and endive (escarole) towards the end. If you’re short of time, use bought stock but remember to brown the meatballs before poaching them to provide the umami kick that store-bought stock sometimes lacks. If you can’t find endive, just use spinach. You’ll be making this on repeat throughout winter.

SERVES 4 FOR THE MEATBALLS

250g pork mince 250g beef or veal mince 1 egg

cup grated parmesan cheese,

plus more for serving 1 tsp dried oregano ½ tsp fine sea salt 2 garlic cloves, peeled and

grated on a microplane ½ cup dried breadcrumbs black pepper

FOR THE SOUP

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 onion, peeled and diced 2 celery stalks, finely diced 3 large carrots, peeled and finely diced 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped ¼ tsp dried chilli flakes (optional) pinch of salt ½ tsp fresh or dried rosemary leaves, finely chopped 1.5 litres chicken stock 1 parmesan rind ½ cup dried ditalini or orzo pasta 1 head endive, leaves separated and washed, or 280g baby spinach salt and black pepper

First, make your meatball mix by combining all the ingredients and mixing well. Use a teaspoon to scoop the mix (each ball is about a heaped teaspoon’s worth, so they’re quite small). Shape into balls and line up on a baking tray or large plate and keep shaping until all the mix is used up.

Heat a large soup pot or enamel-lined Dutch oven over medium/high heat. Add the olive oil and brown the meatballs on all sides. You will need to do this in a couple of batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Remove the meatballs and set aside.

Next, add the chopped onion, celery, carrots, garlic and chilli flakes (if using). Add a good pinch of salt and cook over medium heat until the vegetables have softened and the onions are translucent (about 10-15 minutes). Add the rosemary and sizzle for a minute longer before you add the stock and parmesan rind. Bring to a simmer, then return the meatballs to the pot. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the dried pasta and cook until al dente (check the packet). When the pasta is al dente, add the endive or spinach and allow that to wilt into the soup (about 2 minutes). Discard the parmesan rind and check seasoning; adjust if necessary.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve hot with extra grated parmesan cheese on top.

Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, All Things Sicilian and More, Post: Minestra Maritata, Date: 20/6/ 2018

Minesta in Italian means soup. But it does not stop there – minestrone is a thick soup and minestrina is a more delicate or thin soup.  All minestre (plural) may or may not have pasta (or pastina) or rice or grains added to thicken them.

Then there is zuppa and this Italian word shares the common root with soupe (French), suppe (German) and sopa (Spanish and Portuguese).  These days the differences between a minestra and a zuppa are probably interchangeable and there are always regional and cultural variations (as the Calabrese minestra below), but a zuppa relies on an accompaniment of a slice of bread; usually this is placed in the bowl and the zuppa is ladled on top. The bread soaks up the juice and therefore no pasta, or rice, or grains (barley, wheat) are needed.  Traditionally, a zuppa has a broth base, whereas the liquid in a minesta is more likely to be water and relies on the vegetables, pulses, fish, meat (or smoked meat) for flavour. In modern times, recipes for minestra may include the addition of water, stock or broth as the liquid base .

So why am I taking such an interest in the specific Calabrese minestra?

I was recently in Adelaide and ate at Minestra, a small home style eatery in Prospect (Adelaide) and ordered minestra with my pork and veal and eggplant polpette.

The minestra in this case was presented less soupy and more like a side for the polpette, but it could also be ordered unaccompanied as a one course dish – with a little more liquid and more a like soup.

Minestra in Calabria takes on a different significance and is a traditional, peasant dish suited to the people who were used to working very hard on the land.  And it does not use pasta in this dish … the Calabrese have a reputation for being different (I say this as a pun). This Calabrese minestra has a certain degree of austerity about it, it is not sophisticated or complicated and it is made from simple frugal ingredients – wild greens if possible, and if one was lucky, perhaps a little pork. It also contains beans – dried broad beans or borlotti or cannellini. Hence the description of this minestra being maritata (married in Calabrese dialect) – several green vegetables and the beans (and bits of pork) are ‘married’ or combined to produce a very thick, stew like soup.  Some variations include potatoes and as for the pork, it can be fresh meat ribs or rind. I have also seen a recipe that includes the rind of grating cheese (pecorino) for flavourings.

In Calabria, as in Sicily, wild foraged greens are much appreciated and not just due to necessity (as they once were). In Australia we may not be familiar with the range of edible plants available or have access to as many, but we do have some very good, green, leafy vegetables that provide contrasting and strong flavours.

A mixture of three or four of seasonal, green, leafy vegetables, is sufficient –  I am using  endives (or escarole) and chicory, that are both bitter, cime di rapa (a brassica) for the mustard taste and sow thistle that was sold to me as milk thistle and tastes mild and grassy.

Endives:

Cime di Rapa, Chicory, Sow Thistle:

Wild fennel, amaranth, nettles are also wild greens that could be accessible to you or you may be growing borage in your garden.

I am going to be Italian when I write this recipe. There are no measurements for the ingredients but my photos can give you an indication and it is ‘cucina povera‘- peasant cooking – that is, use what you can get, make it to your taste, add as much liquid as you wish, but keep it thick.

Use a variety of green leafy seasonal vegetables – whatever you can get – go for combinations of taste – bitter, sweet, peppery, grassy, aniseed taste (as in fennel).

RECIPE for Minestra

Soak, cook pulses (borlotti, cannellini, dried broad beans) … or buy tinned beans if that is what you do. In my photo you will see that Ii have used black-eyed beans – this is not an Italian bean, but it is what I had on hand at the time and I do not think that my breaking of tradition mattered. Drain the pulses you intend to use. Keep the liquid (broth) in case you want to add it as the liquid for the minestra.

Clean the greens, separate them from any tough stems but keep the softer ones.

Soften the greens – boil them in as much or as little salted water as you cook all your green leafy vegetables. Drain them but reserve some liquid for the minestra. I did not have to discard any because I did not use much water to cook my greens.

Chop garlic ( I used quite a bit), sauté the drained greens, add  beans. My ratio was about 2/3 greens and 1/3 beans. 

Add chopped chilli at the same time as the garlic if you wish or serve chopped chilli or chilli paste separately (Calabresi a fond of pepper paste). 

Add as much liquid as you wish, dish it up, drizzle some extra virgin oil on it and eat it with some good bread.

This post about Minestra Maritata was written much earlier and has more information, but mainly about the restaurant called Minestra. Unfortunately the restaurant is no longer there.

MINESTRA MARITATA, peasant soup from Calabria

Below, photo taken in Sicily and I was speaking to the gentleman collecting wild greens.

Collecting Sicilian edible wild greens in Agrigento

See recipe for the Sicilian Maccu – another of those peasant soups and this one has even more traditions than the Calabrese minestra.

This post has photos of wild greens in Sicily:

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

ONLY POOR PEOPLE EAT SOUP (and ZUPPA DI PESCE e VERDURA – Fish and Vegetable Soup)

I have a Brazilian friend who once said to me that: Soup is for poor people. I must have looked stunned so he repeated it in a different way:

Only poor people eat soup.

Especially because I come from an Italian background, I do understand what he is saying. Cucina Povera (poor cooking) is the Italian term for Peasant Cookery.

Soups were the poor dishes of the peasant tradition made from available and inexpensive ingredients. In the kitchen, nothing is thrown away is what we are also adhering to today. And soups have definitely made a comeback.

Poor people did eat soup because they may have not been able to afford to eat anything else or did not have access to other ingredients. Soups were made with what was once considered the poorest of ingredients – Fare qualcosa fuori di niente – Making something out of nothing.

The stock of supplies varied according to climate and conditions.

The fact that every crop is of short duration promotes a spirit of making the best of it while it lasts and conserving a part of it for future use.

Honey from a Weed, Patience Gray.

The contadini (peasants on the land) may have slaughtered and sold their meat but the bits that had no value and couldn’t be sold may have been added to what other ingredients went into the soup: seasonal vegetables from the garden, wild herbs, or once again, other produc no one wanted to buy: grains and pulses, where possible, were added and these were very nutritious.

There are many soups that have old bread added for sustenance and as a thickener and also as a way to follow the motto: In the kitchen, nothing is thrown away. And in these soups, not just bread, but leftovers also contributed to the good flavours. The Tuscan soup Ribollita (re-boiled) is a good example.

There are also many regional recipes for fish soups from the coastal areas of Italy. These were made from what was usually superfluous or discarded fish. Many of the famous Italian fish soups come from peasant stock – both because they originated as peasant cuisine and because fish was simmered to make stock. The transaction may also have been through barter or exchange. Whatever else was available was added. These simple soups were the forebears of the various regional Zuppe di Pesce, now made with expensive fish, but not always.

The limitations imposed by a single pot, a single heat source, local produce, and little or no access to imports are all characteristic of peasant cooking and give it a particular identity.

European Peasant Cooking, Elisabeth Laud

Practical rather than economic factors may also have contributed to what and how food was cooked – the number and size of pots and the heat source were likely to be very limited.

In Italy, Peasant Cooking of course, was not just soup and one could wax lyrical at length on about Italian regional pasta, polenta, rice dishes, and even produce made with chestnut flour or potatoes as food to feed the poor.

I grew up in a household that supped on many a Zuppe and Ministre. Maybe my Brazilian friend did not. Soup is a very significant part of Italian cuisine.There was no stigma attached.

You may have wondered why Italians use the word Zuppa…as in Zuppa di Pesce.. and Minestra… as in Minestra di verdure (vegetable soup).

A zuppa is a soup or broth that is served over slices of bread to soak up (inzuppare) the liquid. Sometimes toast or croutons are floated on the surface.

The Oxford Companion of Italian food, Gillian Riley.

Gillian Riley doesn’t really give an explanation for Minestra, but other sources say that a Zuppa never has rice or pasta. This implies that a Minestra does. Pureed vegetable soups are also classed as a Zuppa.

The Minestra, therefore, could imply “a thicker soup” with rice or pasta … or polenta or some other cereal as a thickener.

 And something that may confuse you even further: A Minestrone is a big soup, a hearty one, and implied by the ending one, and if you see the word Minestrina, the ina implies little soup, a light one. Usually a Minestrina is fed to babies or young children, or sick people. It is never heavy.

I consulted a number of resources and this book: Grande Enciclopedia Illustrata della Gostronamia. It is written in Italian and therefore it is probably not surprising that it has more clarification about Zuppa and Minestra.

About Zuppa

According to many scholars, the term Zuppa derives from the Celtic and means “slice of bread

It goes on to say that since the Middle Ages they have been seen as a food of the people, because they do not contain meat. Indeed, the nobles often replaced the dishes with large slices of bread on which they placed the accompaniment. The leftovers of the loaves were given to the servants who put them to cook in pots with vegetables and cereals.

About Minestra

Derived from the Latin ministrare, meaning “to administer”, the word perhaps reflects the fact that Minestra was served out from a central bowl or pot by the figure of authority in the household.

I like this quote from this book; it is what I think:

Ma benché sia così radicata nella tradizione italiana oggi non è affatto semplice definire che cosa sia esattamente una minestra.

‘But although it (minestra and zuppa) are so rooted in the Italian tradition, today it is not at all easy to define what exactly a soup is’.

And there is so much more to discuss like broth and wet pasta dishes that are neither soup or Pasta Asciutta – dry pasta dishes. There is  Pappa as in Pappa al Pomodoro that is a pureed tomato soup thickened with bread! Pappa means Pap.

I love the Italian language!

ZUPPA DI PESCE e VERDURA (Fish and Vegetable Soup)

Because of my Italian background, if I say ‘fish soup’ I usually think of recipes like those from countries around the Mediterranean like Zuppa di Pesce (Italy), Zarzuela (Spain), Bouillabaisse (France), Kakavia (Greece) or maybe Aljotta (Malta). Some soups are served with bread, others with croutons, some add extra flavour by adding a soffritto, rouille or aioli – which all have garlic as the essential ingredient. There are many local variations to the recipes in each of these countries and the names may differ, but all these soups are really like chunky fish stews.

This fish soup recipe is very different to those. It is made with a variety of vegetables and it could be made in any region of Italy. I like to eat it as a thick soup, packed with vegetables and little fish, but some may prefer it with more broth, less vegetables and more fish.

There is no reason why you could not vary the range of vegetables, for example in spring add some seasonal vegetables – use some asparagus, peas and fresh green beans.

I have used only one fish, a wild caught Victorian rock flathead. This is one of the least expensive, sustainable and great tasting. By using a whole fish you eliminate adding fish stock. Select local sustainable fish – Snapper, Silver Perch, Silver Trevally. Ask your fishmonger.

To make fish stock and cook the fish, cover the whole fish with cold water (5-6 cups to make soup for 6 people), add a little salt, a stalk of celery, a carrot, a small onion and a bay leaf – I leave all of these whole. Bring to the boil and poach until the fish is cooked. Drain the broth, remove the flesh from the fish (keep it in large pieces); keep the broth and the fish and discard the vegetables and the bones.

Alternatively, use a good quality fish stock and fresh, fish fillets (select a non-oily, fleshy fish).

INGREDIENTS

1 whole fish and vegetables: make fish stock as above

 ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic

2 spring onions

2 zucchini

1 carrot

1 celery heart

1 potato

4 outside leaves of lettuce (iceberg, butter or romaine)

1 tomato or 1 tablespoon of tomato paste

½ cup of chopped parsley

salt and 1 chopped, fresh chilli or freshly ground black pepper to taste

PROCESSES

Slice or cube all vegetables into small pieces.

Heat the oil in a saucepan (large enough to hold all of the ingredients) and sauté the vegetables except for the tomato (or paste). Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly.

Add fish stock, seasoning and tomato. Cover and cook until the vegetables are soft and to your liking.

Add the cooked pieces of fish, heat through and serve.

If using uncooked fish fillets, cut them into manageable pieces, add these to the hot soup, cover and cook the fish to your liking.