Thirty-six years ago, just about to the day of this posting, my cousin, and dear friend, brought me a container of her home-made “Minestra e Fagioli.” I was just about to give birth to my daughter ( having Braxton Hicks contractions), and I was confined to our apartment. It was the coldest and iciest January on record, and the year was 1977. My doctor did not want me to go out and perhaps fall on the ice that covered the sidewalks and roads. It was a freezing January day, much like we are having now, and I was feeling anxious. I was so happy that my cousin was going to come over and keep me company. I knew she would soon have me laughing, and I would forget my nervousness, if only for a while. She had an 11 month old son and a two year old son, so I was looking forward to talking about labor and the thrill of having a baby. She arrived at my door, covered in snow and with a container of what she referred to as her grandmother’s ( on her dad’s side…we were related through our mothers) recipe for “minestra e fagioli.” Now this dish was new to me. I don’t believe I had had anything like this before, but after all, not all Italians made the same dishes. This was obviously from her father’s side of the family. I was addicted to savoy cabbage, cooked in garlic and oil, for this entire pregnancy, so this container looked like manna from heaven to me. I think I hung up her coat, but all I remember is rushing to the stove to heat it up. I was salivating just looking at it in the pan. We sat down to a delicious lunch and laughed and laughed….something we still do to this day. I was thrilled that there was so much left over. I already knew I was going to eat it again for dinner.
I did indeed eat it again for dinner, and went into labor the next day. Was it the minestra? Or was it just time?
So for the past thirty-six years, I have been asking my cousin for the recipe, but to no avail. Her answer has always been that she did not have a recipe. She learned how to make this dish watching and helping her grandmother. Her jobs were to pick the stones out of the soaking beans and rip the leaves of all the greens into large pieces, as her grandmother believed that cutting them with a knife destroyed the vitamins. Who knows, this could be true. For the sake of argument, we will “rip” while making this recipe.
I knew that the only way I would get the true picture of how to make this dish, was to watch my cousin myself. On this frigid January day, thirty-six years later, I went to her house and documented the entire procedure. I would like to share it with you now. Please, if you are pregnant, eat at your own risk!
Minestra e Fagioli
1 pound Cannolini beans, rinsed and soaked overnight or 6 to 8 hours.
1 large head escarole, leaves ripped to medium size
1 medium savoy cabbage, ripped
1 bunch Kale, ripped
1 bunch Swiss chard, ripped
1 bunch mustard greens, ripped
1 bunch dandelion greens, ripped
1/2 Italian dried sausage, cut into 2 large chunks
1/2 Italian Sopressata, cut into 2 large chunks
2 vegetable bouillon cubes or 2 quarts of vegetable broth
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
** any combination of greens will do. You do not have to follow this exactly. Use what looks good at the market. Also, if you want to make this a vegetarian meal, skip the sausage, and maybe add a little more bouillon or broth for flavor. If you have an old rind from Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, just throw that in as well for flavor. I always save old rinds for this purpose.
Soak the ripped up vegetables in a large pot or sink filled with water. Drain several times and repeat to get dirt or sand off.
Drain the beans. Cook them alone first in a large pot, with approximately 6 quarts of water, with the bouillon or broth added. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook until beans have softened, about 15 minutes. Now add the greens. Once again, cover and bring to a boil. Add the dried sausage and sopressata and rind if you have it. Then lower heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for approximately 1 hour and a half to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Saute the garlic in the oil in a small saucepan. Once the greens and beans are cooked, take out as much broth (save it…it will be delicious on it’s own) as you want. I like this dry, but some people like more broth. After you have removed the broth to your desire, add the oil and garlic. Stir well.
Serve with freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese and the best Italian, crusty bread you can find.