After a recent visit to the province of Agrigento, Sicily in the towns of Castrofilippo and Naro, a strong desire to live on a farm with fresh growing vegetables has become an element of the way I reflect even more so than before. To be in close proximity to fresh milk and cheese, fish, shellfish, livestock, sheep, hogs, chickens and fresh eggs is an event that has long gone away.
In Italy, families work and gather together each day to feast off the seasonal crops ready to be harvested. In both areas, their farms are called “La Campagna”. Although they don’t usually sleep at “La Campagna”, some farms are equipped with a sleeping quarters if needed. What a wonderful souvenir I was given.
The desire to go back again to fulfill my culinary passions further with this lifestyle has given me a new view on life. Perhaps because it brings me back to when I was a young child and my Italian grandmother raised her own chickens and filled every corner of her property with all kinds of vegetables. I can still sense the aromas of the tomato paste set on her kitchen window sill to dry in the sun.
It’s a lot of hard work to have a farm and on the other hand it must be very peaceful because of close proximity with land, the sun and all elements of nature. To watch a seed grow into a mature plant and produce a wonderful vegetable or fruit is to me another miracle of life. To have a rooster crow at the first sign of light to wake you up is definitely a plus when you want to get out in the fields before the sun gets too strong.
At last I got to visit the last surviving 60-year-old farm right here in Greenwich. For the brief time I was at , on King Street, the enjoyment of being surrounded once again by warm just-picked vegetables, home-grown honey and fresh eggs was invigorating.
If you live in Greenwich and you haven’t had the occasion to visit this farm, you will not be let down. Here for you grows locally developed season-peak vegetables, fruit and five varieties of honey. Freshly picked bouquets of greenhouse-grown flowers plus helpful cooking tips from Kathy complete the charm.
As a cook and culinary instructor, there are so many ideas in my head I want to share with you for vegetables. So I concluded to begin with a "big pot" of soup translated from the Italian word Minestrone.
Minestrone; it depends on the cook’s opinion of what it should be. Whether it is hardy with beef broth and meatballs; vegetarian with just vegetables and vegetable broth or water; smoky with bacon, sausage or pancetta or with chicken broth and bits of chicken, it’s always healthy and tasty. Rice, potatoes or pasta; beans or not, it's up to you. This is a quicker version cutting the vegetables small. But you decide what you like and use this recipe as a guide.
1 cup (4 ounces) tubetti pasta, or other small pasta shape
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 cups chicken or beef stock
3 slices of bacon, cut into slivers
6 medium garlic cloves, each cut in ½ lengthwise
2 cups finely chopped yellow onions (2 medium onions)
1 cup small-diced celery (2 medium stalks)
1 cup small-diced carrots (2 to 3 medium carrots)
1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano or thyme leaves
1 (14-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
5 to 6 whole fresh tomatoes, chopped or about 1 pound
4 cups small-diced zucchini (green/yellow) (5 small zucchini)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, torn
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano
Optional greens (see below)
Preparation: cut and measure the garlic; chop the onions; dice celery, carrots and herbs, put aside. Sliver the bacon. Cut the zucchini. Open the can of cannellini beans, drain, rinse and set aside. Open the diced tomatoes and set aside. (If you are short in time, all the vegetables can be prepared ahead and put into small inexpensive baggies)
Measure the broth into a small saucepan and warm on low heat. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain and put aside.
In another large saucepan over high heat, heat ¼ cup oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the bacon and cook until it begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes, turning occasionally. Lower the heat to medium and add the onions, celery, and carrots. Add the garlic and cook, about 1 minute, stirring occasionally.
Cook until the vegetables are soft, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent browning. Add the chopped oregano or thyme.
Raise the heat to high. Add the beans, tomatoes, and zucchini. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Then bring it down to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, 12 to 15 minutes, skimming any foam off the top of the soup. (add the optional greens, see below, and cook an additional 5 minutes or until wilted)
Season generously with pepper. Just a few minutes before serving, add the cooked tubetti pasta. Stir 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano cheese into the soup. Add the fresh basil. Add salt if necessary. Serve warm with more Parmigiano cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Cook's Note: Add the cooked pasta just before serving. If it sits in the soup too long, it becomes flabby and absorbs the liquid. Tubetti (little hollow tubes) are the classic pasta for minestrone, but you could substitute another small shape of pasta, such as Ditalini or Baby Shells or cooked rice.
Add 1 cup of chopped greens such as spinach, escarole or swiss chard for a extra-vitamin-rich soup. Makes 8-10 servings
Buon Appetito! From Amelia's Kitchen
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