When I was little, one of the most frequent words I’d hear from my grandma was minestra. To her, minestra summed up the very meaning of a meal: It meant pasta, and it meant legumes, or sauce to go with them, all mixed in one earthy, steamy bowl.
It could be a simple bowl of pasta with tomato sauce, or a bowl of thick soup with little pasta like orzo or ditalini that is so often fed to kids, or a simple dish of stock with, again, small pasta, some Parmigiano and a touch of extra-virgin olive oil.
This is what it was for us kids.
For adults, minestra verged on some more intense flavors: any thick stew of grains, beans, and vegetables could be called minestra, and, back in the ’50s when times were tough, just about anything that they could put on their plate was called minestra, and that was a word to give blessings to.
Nowadays, the word minestra is used to indicate any liquid, chunky soup that usually contains pasta or other grains, but the way my grandparents used that word always stuck to my memories.
Some of the most famous minestras include Tuscan minestrone, chickpea & pasta stew with cabbage, and the recipe I am presenting here now is the queen of minestras: borlotti soup with maltagliati.
Soups such as this are extremely simple and do not call for any fancy ingredients. It might seem strange, but the amount of flavor it packs for so little ingredients is insane! It is so good and satisfying, it is one of the most loved vegetarian dishes by die-hard meat eaters.
Borlotti were, and still are, addressed as the “poor man’s meat” as they provide nourishment with a nice bite and deep flavor. Maltagliati is maybe the “cheapest,” so to speak, kind of pasta there was: when all the classic cuts of pasta were done, the housewives would collect the scraps of dough, roll them up and cut it in a criss-cross pattern to make them look a bit prettier. The word maltagliati roughly translates as “cut in an irregular fashion,” and, in fact, the point of making this pasta is that it shouldn’t look that pretty at all. Nowadays maltagliati are one of the most famous cuts of fresh pasta for soup, and one of the easiest to make at home (after all, the point is that they are not meant to come out perfect—quite the contrary).
The recipe calls for only half of the maltagliati you’ll get with the recipe below, but the other half can be used in countless ways: the smoky flavor of buckwheat is especially good in winter pasta sauces, especially those with cheese. You could use them to make this Chickpea Pasta with Cabbage, which is just as satisfying and totally vegan, or even use them for this Vegan Boscaiola Pasta Bake. Unleash your cold-weather creative mind! If you like buckwheat, they will be good with pretty much anything.
Do you have a soup from you memories as a kid? What is a quintessential soup of your tradition?
¾ cup whole wheat or spelt flour
¼ cup buckwheat flour
⅓ cup water, more or less
NOTE: If you have access to eggs from happy hens, and you do eat eggs, this pasta comes out a little better if using one egg instead of the water.
10 oz. borlotti beans, fresh or dried
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 celery stalk
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup tomato sauce, or 2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 to 4 cups vegetable stock, or more
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
Half the pasta recipe
1 scant tablespoon chopped rosemary
To garnish: garlic olive oil or a sprinkling of grated cheese
- In a bowl, combine the flours. Knead, adding the water a little at a time, until the dough comes together. The dough should be smooth and easy to handle, not too dry but not sticky. Adjust water accordingly. I cannot give an exact amount, as different flours react differently, but you will likely need at least ⅓ cup. Roll into a ball, wrap in cling film and let rest for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
- When ready, flour your workplace and flatten the dough with your hands. If you have a long rolling pin, you can roll it out by hand, or you can use a pasta machine. The pasta should not be too thin—this kind of pasta for soup is best kept a bit on the al dente side.
- Whether you end up with a circular shape or with a long strip, generously flour the surface, and loosely roll one end of the dough into a cigar shape, stopping halfway. Do the same with the other half, like you would a piece of parchment. Cut ¼ inch sections crosswise. If you unfold your pasta now, you obtain tagliatelle.
- To make maltagliati, cut the dough again in diagonal, so that you obtain a diamond-shaped pasta. Spread it out on the work surface or on a floured tray, and let it dry for an hour or so. This makes it much easier to cook ad to handle in general. You can store any excess pasta in the freezer for later use, or use it with any of your favorite dressings like you would normal pasta. Maltagliati are especially delicious in winter preparations, like in Pasta with Chickpeas and Cabbage (see link above).
- Prepare the beans: add them to a pot with plenty of water, and boil until tender, about an hour. Depending on how fresh the beans are, and depending on the quality of the beans, they might take up to two hours. Do not add any salt. If boiling the beans is too much for you, skip the fresh beans and use 2 cans of good quality, salt-free canned borlotti beans.
- Add the olive oil, onion, carrot and celery to a pot, and stir-fry on low for 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce or paste, and stir fry for one more minute. Drain the beans well (or rinse them if using canned) and add to the pot. Add 2 cups of the stock, turn the heat to very low and simmer for about 40 minutes. Add more stock if the soup dries out too much. Everything needs to cook slowly, so the flavor can develop and really shine.
- Add the pasta, salt and pepper, and boil until the pasta is cooked, about 5 more minutes. If it gets too thick before adding the pasta, add more stock—consider that the starch in the pasta will thicken the soup further. Though the soup should be rather stew-like, you can make it more soupy by just adding more stock.
- Finish with the chopped rosemary. This soup is great finished with a drizzle of garlic-infused olive oil or, if you are not vegan, a sprinkling of seasoned pecorino. A tablespoon of nutritional yeast stirred in is also a great idea. Enjoy as a main dish, with a green salad on the side.
Valentina is a 25-year-old Italian ex-graphic designer who, like many designers, got seduced by food photography. She runs Hortus Cuisine, a blog where she shares Italian natural vegetarian recipes from the Italian countryside. She loves green tea, hates cilantro, and considers handmade pasta a form of art. Follow along on Instagram @HortusCuisine.