My Love for Italian Food via Movies and Travel
But it started before I saw those two movies, a long long time ago.
I am not Italian but I love Italian food. Does sound cliché? It probably does but such is my feeling about Italian food. Simple comme cela.
My first holiday spent in Italy was a family holiday when I was 7, many years ago indeed. In the summer of 1976, the whole family packed the car full; my parents, brother, my cousin Daniel and I drove the 1000 + kms separating my home village in the North-East of France to the South, to spend a month on the East Italian coast. But not anywhere in Italy since our summer vacations were almost always spent by the seaside, au bord de la mer pour les enfants (by the seaside for the kids), as my parents would put it. They were indeed spoiling us in this way since they invariably took us to see the sea every summer (all right, we begged for it most of the time). So every year, I would explore and discover a bit more of the French West coast, the Mediterranean coast (which we then fiercely avoided due to people congestion as you see, French people like to flock together down South at exactly the same time in the year) and places overseas like Italy. When you grow up inland with no salty water body around you before miles away, you develop this strong thirst to see la mer, which becomes the dream place for young kids. Invariably during those vacations, our activities were as follows: daily visits to local vegetable markets in the morning to get ingredients for lunch, then lunch prepared by my mum, the obligatory afternoon nap (we hated this part so much) before going to the beach (our favorite part of course), cultural visits (mostly for my parents then), dinner, and playing cards. Every day, we would play pétanque before dinner with my parents and neighbours. The adults – as we called them then – also drank l’apéritif. So our Italian routine during that summer month was simple and we loved it. Would you be surprised if I told you that what I remember very well is the food and Italian pasta? Even if we ate at the restaurant every day, there was not one single day when the pasta looked the same. From the appetizer, to lunch or dinner, the pasta dishes were all unique and always came under another shape. I was still a young kid then but the impression left on me was huge. Italian food was superb I thought, and I remember it like this.
Today, since I cannot go to Italy as often as I wish, I keep the country close by cooking its food. My range of Italian cooking goes from meats such as Osso Bucco to pasta such as fresh ravioli to name of few dishes, but there is one dish in Italian food that I love even more. Maybe because I am a lover of rustic foods, those very ones that not only nourish you with real nutrients and vitamins, but with stories. I know, I am a dreamer, but I cannot help it. Food has this power on me. So when I eat a minestrone soup, I imagine I could be one of the characters around the large country table in Tuscany as shown in Stealing Beauty. And since I have a lot of imagination, it really works magically.
I am sure that I do not need to describe a Minestrone soup to you. In short, the name comes from the Italian Minestra, which very often describes a soup of medium thickness, with meat or vegetables. Minestrina means “little soup” whereas Minestrone means “big soup“. The latter usually contains pasta, beans and peas, topped with parmesan cheese. Because of its richness, it is usually considered a meal in itself. In Genoa, minestrone is served with pesto stirred in the soup.
Eaten warm or cold is an option left to you, depending on the weather and your mood.
Give me pasta, pesto, and vegetables and I call this the perfect light yet plentiful lunch. Just like the ones I love to have.
My Genoese Minestrone soup looks like this:
- 2 cups + 1/3 cup vegetable stock (make your own if you have time)
- 11 oz zucchinis (small)
- 2 spring onions
- 2 tomatoes (about 250 g)
- 2 oz frozen peas (or fresh)
- 4 oz snap peas (mange-tout)
- 1/3 cup (minus 1 Tbsp) dark olive oil
- 3/4 cup dry rigatoni pasta
- 1 tbsp mixed chopped parsley and coriander
- 1 oz fresh basil leaves
- 2 oz fresh parmesan
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
- Salt and ground pepper
- 1/2 tsp pink peppercorn
Preparing your pesto
- Take a mortar and in it, place the peeled garlic cloves with the sea salt and pink peppercorn seeds.
- Crush together. Add the basil leaves (keep some for the end) and crush again.
- Then add the parmesan cut with vegetable peeler.
- Crush until you have a nice paste and slowly add the olive oil.
Preparing the soup
- Blanch your tomatoes in a pot with boiling water for 30s.
- Take the tomatoes out and cool them in iced water before peeling them.
- Remove the seeds and cut in small cubes.
- Keep the white part of the spring onions and slice it.
- Wash all other vegetables, and drain them.
- Slice the zucchinis very thinly.
- Heat your vegetable stock.
- When boiling, add the rigatoni. If the pasta needs 10 mns cooking, cook them for 7 mns in broth.
- Then add all other vegetables and cook for 3 or 4 more mns. You want to keep the vegetables crispy.
- Away from heat, add the pesto. Add extra parmesan shaves and basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper according to taste, and serve warm or cold.
Le coin français
- 60 cl bouillon de légumes (faites le vôtre!)
- 300 g courgettes (petites)
- 2 oignons nouveaux
- 2 tomates (250 g)
- 50 g petits pois écossés
- 100 g mange-tout
- 10 cl huile d’olive
- 50 g rigatoni
- 1 càs de persil et de coriandre mélanéees et hachées
- 20 g feuilles de basilic (1 beau bouquet)
- 50 g parmesan frais
- 3 gousses d’aïl
- 1/2 càc de gros sel de mer
- Sel et poivre du moulin
- 1/2 càc de baies roses
Préparation du pesto
- Dans un mortier, mettez les gousses d’aïl pelées et dégermées avec le sel et les baies roses.
- Écrasez l’ensemble, puis ajoutez le basilic (réservez quelques feuilles). Continuez à réduire en purée.
- Ajoutez le parmesan coupé en copeaux (avec un couteau économe).
- Mélangez pour obtenir une pâte et puis ajoutez l’huile d’olive.
Préparation de la soupe
- Plongez les tomates dans de l’eau bouillante pendant 30s.
- Rinsez-les dans de l’eau glacée avant de les peler.
- Enlevez les pépins et coupez les tomates en petits cubes.
- Gardez la partie blanche des oignons et émincez-les.
- Lavez tous les autres légumes et mettez-les de côté.
- Coupez les courgettes en tranches fines.
- Faites chauffer votre bouillon de légumes.
- Lorsqu’il a atteint ébullition, ajoutez les rigatoni. Si le temps de cuisson de vos pâtes est de 10 mns, cuisez les pâtes pendant 7 mns dans le bouillon.
- Ajoutez tous les autres légumes et continuez la cuisson pendant 3 ou 4 mns, en gardant les légumes croquants.
- Hors du feu, ajoutez le pesto. Ajoutez des copeaux de parmesan supplémentaires avec des feuilles de basilic ciselées. Rectifiez l’assaisonnement selon votre goût et servez, chaud ou froid.