Excerpted from her book, When I Am Italian: Quando sono italiana. Part one of a three-part series.
My cousin, Bede Becce Avcollie, the first born of my Aunt Bea and Uncle Rocco, grew up on the farm in Waterbury, Connecticut where the oldest ways of cooking went on for the longest in all of our families, because it was a pig farm and they had a huge kitchen garden. They made their own prosciutto, sausage, capicollo. They canned tomatoes, pears, lots of other things too, and made their own cheese. My grandmother was the originator of all of this cooking who, even while she reviled my Aunt Bea mercilessly, simply because Aunt Bea wasn’t from an Italian family and married her only surviving son, taught her all of her cooking ways. Aunt Bea learned every detail, and carried all of these traditions on for all of us. In turn my cousin Bede knows the original recipe.
Bede is speaking below about how they made the minestra for every Monday’s dinner at noon:
“First my mother started with a large soup pan on the stove. Then she added salt pork or a few ribs. Sometimes she used the end of the prosciutto or some dried sausage. Sometimes some salt pork or ribs. Whatever we had in the house. Mostly she made a chicken stock, with pieces of chicken, like the backs and necks, but she sometimes made a beef stock, using soup bones.* After that simmered a while, she added whole onions, carrots, celery and a few sprigs of parsley. We always added greens from the garden, scarole, cicori. But dandelions were the essential green that had to be in the soup. We picked those from the fields around the house where they grew wild. The greens were cooked separately and added to the broth at the end. When freezers came in, my mother would freeze some too. She put some chicken in at the end so it wouldn’t be overcooked. We never put meatballs in our minestra.
“She removed all of the parsley. She took the vegetables out whole and served those in one serving dish. She put all of the meat on another serving dish. We had the minestra first as our soup. Then we grated our own cheese on top of it: mozzarella and parmesan. We’d have that with fresh Italian bread, and dip the bread in the soup.
Then we each had some vegetables and whatever pieces of meat we wanted after the soup.”
*Aunt Toni told me that up the farm where she, our mother Rose, sisters Angela and Vicki and brother Rocco grew up, any bones remaining after the prosciutt’ and soprasott’ were made were put into a large barrel and kept in the cellar layered with salt. She also told me that in Tolve, our paese, the bone was handed round the neighborhood!