Humble Italian Stew

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It’s been about two weeks since my grandmother passed away and I find myself doing the one thing I know how to do to deal with the difficult times. Cook. The day after, I gathered up all of the ingredients in my fridge, carted them down to my parents house and prepared a large stock pot of Ribolitta, a humble and comforting Italian stew, to nurture my parents during this difficult time as my mother had graciously done so often over the years and as my grandmother did before her. As we experience the loss of my grandmother it only makes sense that I cook, and a large pot of Italian stew at that.

As I prepared the large pot, alone in my parent’s kitchen, I couldn’t help but think of my grandmother’s pesto minestrone simmering away on her old kitchen stove. And the dry, flour on my hands as my grandmother and I mixed the flour, salt, eggs, and water into a sticky dough that would soon be cut and dried into long strands of pasta.

I remember moments like this clearly, as if I was still there. In fact, it is difficult to understand how so much time has passed. I can see my grandfather sitting at the long and oval wood table covered with the plastic checkered table cloth. My grandfather always in the same uniform: baseball cap and button up short-sleeve shirt with his plastic pocket protector and pen poking out of his pocket on the left side of his chest. Hemingway, my Uncle’s cat from Key West-the cat with six toes-proudly situated atop a worn brown towel on the chair next to my grandfather. My grandmother, in her pink and purple floral apron, gliding around the kitchen, preparing a large pot of stock for the minestrone.

I have many memories of my grandmother, but her recipes and love for cooking have influenced me to the most. While I would like to share my grandmother’s pesto minestrone one day,  I do not have the recipe and will likely have to devote a great deal of time to perfecting it. For now, however, I leave you with a recipe for Ribolitta, my own version of a comforting, traditional stew. Similar to the pesto minestrone, this stew is prepared slowly, over time, and enjoyed for several days.

Modified from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
Serves 6

olive oil
2 yellow onions, peeled & chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled & chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled & chopped
6 stalks celery, trimmed & chopped
a bunch of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1-28 oz can plum tomatoes
3 yukon potatoes, peeled & chopped
1-15 oz can of cannellini beans (liquid reserved)
3 big handfuls of curly kale torn into bite size pieces, stalks removed
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
several slices of good-quality bread
salt and pepper

Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot. Sauté onions, garlic, carrot, and celery over medium heat until soft and caramelized, about 20-30 minutes. Add the parsley to the pot, reserving a few tablespoons for later, and cook for 2-3 more minutes.

Add the tomatoes and potatoes, and cook on low for approximately 10 minutes until tomato liquid has reduced. Then, add the beans and their liquid, kale, and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, covered. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Once the flavors have melded, turn off the heat, lay the bread slices on top, and drizzle with good olive oil. Let sit for a few minutes for the soup to thicken. Stir to combine and then serve in bowl with fresh parsley sprinkled on top.

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