Featured Post

ABOUT THIS BLOG & ITS BLOGGER

I like to eat. Because I like to eat, I like to cook, especially for friends I like to eat with. That’s what this blog is about: what I lik...

March 5, 2017

Blog the Thirty-ninth: At the Heart of Minestrone

Savoy Cabbage Braise,
or Pasta ‘n potatoes?



If you’re a Gentile in the least acquainted with Italian food, you no doubt think you know what “minestrone” is, but I doubt you do, because I doubt there’s something to know, speaking precisely. There is of course a single name, but that’s not conclusive, since we name and contemplate not only things but also their absence—as darkness names the absence of light and blindness the absence of sight. We moreover name what can be based on what is; and what could be based on what can be conceived; and what should have been be even against what already is unfortunately. Language and thought extend much farther than the reality before it, and venture so far as to name even the ineffable that cannot be named and the inconceivable that cannot be conceived (which is especially useful when you need to name God or mathematical fictions).

But what has any of that to do with “minestrone”? Well, the Italian suffix “-one” indicates that we’re dealing with something not only big but clumsy, something oafish or overdone—you call your fat uncle a “mangione”, not your voracious teen. A “minestrone” is an overdone “minestra”, which only raises the question of what a “minestra” is, itself vexed. One might translate it “soup”. But does the English word “soup” imply a medley of elements in liquid, whether thin as broth or thick as sauce? A “minestra” can be less than that. In Sicily, the day after a feast day my aunt made us a light supper out of a mild green served in the salted water it simmered in, drizzled with olive oil and squirted with some lemon. That’s a simple “minestra”. You eat the greens with a fork in your right hand and bread in your left, spooning and/or sopping up the broth at the end.  Is that soup?  Granted that you finish with a spoon, is it soup if you begin with a fork?

That’s the English horn of the dilemma. Then there’s the Italian. When you add pasta to a “minestra”, it is no longer a “minestra”, but rather a pasta. It changes its genus, as adding wings to a warm dinosaur makes it a bird. In the case of a minestra, the bread is but accompaniment. Add pasta to that same minestra, and the pasta becomes the essential matter of the dish, which then takes its specific form from its minestra. When I make pasta ‘n lentils, I sometimes save some of the lentils to eat on their own the next day as a minestra, accompanied no doubt by bread. In contrast, my people never have bread with pasta, for doubling the starches ruins the proportion. Only at the end after the pasta is all eaten, if there remain remnants of sauce in the bowl, might we reach for a piece of bread to sop it up.

Notwithstanding the antiquity of these distinctions, when we add not only pasta but different sorts of pasta to the multifarious minestra of a minestrone, we don’t call it a pasta, but rather a “minestrone”, or an “oaf” of a “minestra”. This nomeclature does not make quidditative sense, but there it is anyway, existing. Exist though it may, if there’s no accounting for it, there’s no knowing it, speaking precisely, is there?


Should someone ask me, “Do you know what minestrone is?”, I would say, “Of course.” Should they go on to ask me to say what it is, I'd stutter—I’d say it’s a sort of pasta dish with many vegetables, or else a vegetable soup of sorts with several sorts of pasta. You can make it drier, I’d say, like a pasta, or wetter, like a soup. If they should ask which I do, I’d say I make it wet the day I serve it, and serve it dry the day I reheat it. “So you prefer it wet?" No, actually, I like it dry. “Like a pasta primavera?” Well, sort of, except you eat it with a spoon, not a fork, and most of its vegetables are wintery, although some are summery, and their flavors are intermingled, so that it tastes very different from a primavera’s medley. “Wait, what’s the difference exactly?” Well, it’s like obscenity: I always know it when I see it, but it’s hard to define.

One could try to say that that minestrone is the extreme of minestraMinestra Maxed, as it were—except that its elements are unlimited in both number and variety, and how can the infinite be a limit or the indefinite a definition? Any given minestrone is more a melee than a mélange, more a mess than a mix, more miscegenation than hybridization. Order and freedom are things; disorder and license are not. A donkey is a thing, but a mule, not really. Minestrone is a mule of a minestra. It is willing to mix summer vegetables with winter ones, legumes with potatoes, potatoes with pasta, and any thing with any thing. If you told my mother you put eggplant in your minestrone, she’d think that bad, but she would not on that account say, That’s not minestrone. It’s as if minestrone admits of a bad turn, but not perversion of nature. Whatever you may add to it, it will still be “minestrone”. There’s nothing it can’t become. It’s never finished becoming itself. What sort of thing is that, I ask you?

Well, will it suffice for it to be some definite thing if it has a definite beginning, even if not a definite end? I once got into a discussion at table with my parents about different ways their different friends make minestrone and, metaphysically irritated by the license so to vary, I challenged, “What makes "minestrone" minestrone, then? It sounds like anything can be a minestrone.” And without skipping a beat, they in unison asserted, “La verza”—the cabbage. I can’t remember any other time in my life when my parents agreed with each other so quickly and so without qualification. It stunned me into silence. And in that silence, I brooded over my memories of minestrone, in search of cabbage.

Is that what I so love about minestrone? I can’t say I even knew cabbage was in it before I learned to make it. But surely my tongue tasted it all along, did it not? Does my tongue taste tastes without me? Does my memory preserve tastes I have not yet tasted? If I search my memories of minestrone and there find the taste of cabbage, do I for the first time taste in memory the taste I didn’t taste in time? When I through memory for the first time recognize the taste of cabbage at the heart of the taste of “minestrone”, do I for the first time taste its essence, so to speak? What then? Are essences tasted at a time and space only coincidentally, and not in time and space really, but only in thought? Is that why I could be blind all those years to the essence of what my eyes delighted to contemplate, my tongue to taste, and my hands to make? I could make and eat, and not know precisely what I was making and eating, and also not know that I did not know? How is it I did not know that I did not know? I know when my eyes are not seeing sights. Do I not know when my mind is not seeing an essence?

Well, now I know and know that I know, and so do you, gentile Reader, that if you’ve been served a chunky vegetable soup in Italian restaurants which they call “minestrone” but didn’t have cabbage in it, then you were blinded by the blind. And if it’s a Northern Italian restaurant, and the proprietor chortles that it’s the beans that make it minestrone because they thicken the soup, then you explain to him that “thick” is a quantitative, not a quidditative difference.  Furthermore, adding more vegetables to beans is adding more of the same kind and therefore not like adding wings to a warm dinosaur to get a bird. And if our sardonic sophist thus rebuked escapes to etymology to recover an air of knowledge, explaining to you that the name “minestra” comes from the verb “minestrare,” or from “serving” soup out of a serving bowl to the family, then you explain that place-from-which is an origin of motion, not being, and hence not a quidditative difference either. That should silence the blind.

And there’s yet another equivocation of which to be wary. That leathery green cannon ball that goes by the name of “cabbage” among certain Gentiles of the north is not at all what we’re talking about here. Among my people “cabbage” always means “Savoy” cabbage, which differs from green as does sight from blindness. Savoy cabbage is creamy and curly and cordial, and green cabbage not. Green cabbage is void of what makes Savoy cabbage delicious—or more to the point, of what makes minestrone delicious.


SAVOY CABBAGE BRAISE

So let us begin over again our search for minestrone’s essence. Let us start afresh with la verza, Savoy cabbage, which my mother’s people call cappuccio. They make a delicious minestra of it, eaten with fork and bread, as a first dish. And I'm deciding that if you eat it with a fork, it's not a soup, but a "braise".

Pull away tough or weary outer leaves, then halve it lengthwise and core it. With each half flat face down, halve the half lengthwise, then crosswise into thick strips of an inch or so. Put the strips to soak in a bowl of cold water.

Now take hold of a really big onion—sweet is best, like Vadalia or Spanish, but yellow will do. Slice it lengthwise in half, then nick away root below and pompidou above, and pull away outer skin. Flat side face down, halve each half lengthwise a few times, then slice crosswise into the thinnest of slices. Pour out a pool of ordinary olive oil to cover the bottom of a thick-bottomed pot, scrape your mound of onion hair in, and sprinkle with salt. Put the pot over medium heat, cover, and heat the onion up to a glistening sweat, with a toss or two in between. Then uncover, and sizzle cheerfully to golden, with frequent tossing. (If no one is looking, you may sneak in the thinnest slices of a small garlic clove, and/or hot red pepper.)

Meanwhile, seed several pelati by halving them crosswise and squeezing out the seeds on rivulets of juice. Then roughly chop the tomatoes. Once the sizzling onions have blushed golden, add the chopped tomato, and mix to marry. (If you sneak in pinches of dried spice, let it be gentle and sweet, like marjoram or basil, not assertive, like oregano.) Once the tomato likewise comes to a glistening sizzle, it is time to add your Savoy strips to your little sauce.


Drain the cabbage and add the strips to the pot, sprinkling with salt as you go. Now cover and steam the cabbage; after a bit, turn it over in the sauce by scraping the bottom of the pot with a spatula and flipping the cabbage strips over, folding the sautéed onion into the cabbage. Once the cabbage wilts and sweats shiny, add equal amounts of chicken broth and boiling water, to come half way up. Bring the pot back to a cheerful simmer—not lethargic, but not vehement either—and simmer with cover ajar until the cabbage is fork-tender yet toothsome—20 minutes, give or take 5. Off heat, fold in Pecorino Romano, whether crumbled, grated, or both.


We eat this minestra di verza in a pool of its own broth in a pasta bowl, with fork and crust in right and left (or inversely, if left-handed). At hand likewise is a spoon for spooning up the broth at the end. We do sop at the end as well, but we don’t soak our crusts of bread in between. I’ve read on the Web that if you soak your crusts for spooning up, your minestra becomes a zuppa. I’m unpersuaded. The bread doesn’t seem quidditative to me.

Speaking of sopping, apparently “soup” originates from a German word for “sop” mispronounced and misused by a Frenchman to refer to the broth without its bread. The Italian cognate “zuppa” (from Latin “suppa”, whence our “supper”) is closest to “soup” in origin, but not in use. My mother’s people acknowledge “zuppa asciutta” (or “dry soup”) as another name for pasta e minestra, but that only raises the question of what a wet minestra is then, and we’re back where we started, aren’t we?

"The wise householder brings forth from his store things old and new."
That scriptural warrant is my apology for an innovation. I sometimes add half-inch potato wedges to my Savoy cabbage braise. I add them in at the beginning together with the cabbage strips.  At first I worried I was nordifying the food of my people. But when I took courage to mention my innovation to my parents, they responded with curious interest, and then approbation upon experiment.

That parental absolution emboldening me, I sought ancestral justification for my innovation in minestrone, which includes potatoes in its panoply of vegetables, the potatoes lending starchy texture to the minestra. In time I began to believe that a minestrone was but a minestra di verza super-sized with other vegetables, beginning with potatoes. In fact, minestrone is such a lot of work to make, I often make myself a minestra of Savoy earlier in the week for dinner, to produce leftovers to add to a minestrone later in the week; or contrariwise, leftover cappuccio might inspire me to make a minestrone. Have I perhaps found, I wondered, the essential motherlode of minestrone’s manifold: fecund mother of many, la minestra della verza!

But whence the pasta? It was easy to account for the potato as but another vegetable darling of mother verza. But can vegetables give birth to a pasta? No, I felt sure not, not any more than a horse could give birth to a mule without coupling with a donkey. Minestrone’s crossing over to pasta was clearly a surd to my minestral definition of its quiddity. I realized that although la verza was undeniably an essential ingredient, I also know that a sine qua non is not a propter quid. And I began to brood afresh.

PASTA ‘N POTATOES

Then it was I recollected pasta e patate. You make pasta ‘n potatoes just the way you start off a minestrone. Could pasta e patate be the sire that multiplies the births of mother verza? Indeed could this not be the intemperance at the start and heart of minestrone?

When you mention pasta ‘n potatoes to Italians who have never had it, they respond with embarrassed surprise, as when your parents mention having sex. There’s something licentious about mixing two such starchy starches. The respectable thing to do is make a pasta out your of your potatoes, a.k.a. gnocchi. My best guess is that pasta ‘n potatoes is a love-child of poverty and winter, and like many a love-child, the chubby darling may not be entirely respectable, but not the less delectable for that.

Pasta ‘n potatoes begins (as does minestrone!) with the classic aromatic trio of carrots, celery & onion. Since pasta ‘n potatoes is the sort of pasta soup you eat with spoon, all the vegetables are cut down to spoon-size, except for the onions—the onions are meant to disappear into the minestra as a sort of translucent mulch. As for all the other vegetables, everything must continue to look like itself, except littler. As ever, my people never infantilize vegetables by cutting them up into homogeneously unrecognizable dice. We can chop larger because we don’t need every vegetable represented on every spoonful; on the contrary, variation from spoon or spoon is desirable.

Begin by cutting up a really big onion into a really big mound of onion hair. First slice the onion lengthwise and notch out of each half the root below and pompidou above; then remove outer skin. Now flat side down, make a few lengthwise cuts, and then slice crosswise as thinly as possible, to produce onion hair. Scrape this mound into a pool of oil sufficient to fill the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pot. Turn the heat up to medium, sprinkle the onion all over with salt, and cover the pot to steam the onion to a glistening sweat, with a toss or two in between. Then uncover, and fold into the sautéeing onion a goodly garlic clove halved and sliced into the thinnest of slivers, to melt in. Scrape them into the pot and keep sautéeing the onion until it blushes golden.

Meanwhile, slice up carrot and celery equal together in bulk to the onion. Depending on size, cut the stalks lengthwise as needed, and then crosswise to produce little discs, demilunes, or crescents. When the sautéeing onion glows golden, scrape in the sliced carrot ‘n celery, and shower with salt. Sauté to shiney.

Meanwhile, seed several pelati. You want only enough tomato for coloring, to render the final minestra rose gold, not red. An amount equal in bulk to the aromatics will do the trick. Slice each plum tomato in half across the middle, then squeeze out the seeds on rivulets of juice. Roughly chop up the pile of tomato. When the sautéeing carrot and celery glaze golden, fold in the tomato bits. (At this point, you could opt to put in some fresh basil leaves, or else some pinches of sweet spice, like dried basil or marjoram, but certainly nothing as assertive as oregano or rosemary.)

As your tomato cooks down with your aromatics into a chunky little sauce, cut up your potatoes. Lay peeled potato halves face down and slice, depending on size, several times lengthwise, then crosswise pencil-thick. You want not dice, but oblongs or triangles small enough to share a spoon with spoon-sized pasta. However keep in mind that pasta ‘n potatoes has no pretensions to elegance; it likes big mouthfuls.

When your saucy aromatics beckon, fold in your chopped potato, with showers of salt and, optionally, pepper black or red. Cover the pot to sweat the potato to glistening, tossing it in the sauce now and again. When everything glistens and wafts sweet, add in half chicken-broth and half boiling water, to completely cover all the vegetables by a couple of inches. Then bring the pot to steady simmer, cheerful rather than energetic. Cook the potatoes to underdone; then shut the heat off. Taste and correct for enough salt, (pepper,) and oil. Then sprinkle on Pecorino Romano, either chunked, grated, or both, to mix itself in later. Cover and let rest.

When ready for it, boil spoon-sized pasta—small shells, orecchiette, ditalini, spaghetti snapped inch-long—in water as salty and roiling as a stormy sea, until not quite done, still lodging in your molars. Into your gently reheated minestra of potatoes, transfer dripping pasta with a slotted spoon. Now boil the pasta and potatoes just long enough to finish cooking them to tender yet toothsome. If you want your pasta soup more soupy, then add in more of the pasta cooking water— a cruet of which you also put at table for people to adjust their individual portions. Also offer at table grated cheese and pepper (black and red).

Starch pleases. Plain pleasure. Simple as that.

And the frankness of potato’s plain pleasure proves companionable. It invites other vegetables in, like the big-bellied host ever ready to welcome a stray guest or two more to table. Or so goes my story of its metamorphosis into minestrone. The Northern Italian would have it that the mark of minestrone is thickening beans (of course, they only get the beans to thicken their minestra by smashing some into a pabulum they mix back in). But, tell me, if you’re eating pasta e faggioli, and someone says, How about we add some more vegetables to this, do you think, Good idea? Isn’t it plenty fulsome as is? On the other hand, if you have a minestra of cabbage in front of you and someone says, how about adding some potatoes; or if you have pasta e patate, and someone says, how about some Savoy cabbage? If you know anything, you say, Yeah, why not? Sounds good.

In the end, it’s not so much what you add as why you add it. Minestrone was no doubt born of long nights and leftovers. What better than a potato pasta soup to inspire enhancement with what’s on hand? In time, successful combinations command approbation and imitation, and a recipe emerges. This speculative morphogenesis can also account for beans being in minestrone, for whereas adding potatoes and cabbage to pasta e faggioli evinces an unpersuasive excess, tossing some leftover cabbage and beans into pasta e patate evinces the resourceful frugality of the peasant cellar.

Why you add makes for the quidditative difference, not merely what you add. That’s propter quid.

MINESTRONE

The trick in cooking a fully emergent minestrone is timing the vegetables. They cook at different rates, of course. Ideally, you want them in the end all tender, yet not mushy; mingled, yet not amalgamated. Inevitably some go past toothsomely tender. But even if all should go past, if you at least make certain that your sundry pasta stay toothsome, you’ll probably get away with it uncontemned. Probably.

So, the minestrone line-up of vegetables to add to the chunky aromatics sauce is: onion, carrot, & celery; peas & string beans; potato & parboiled cabbage and pre-cooked pinto beans. If ever you become a maestro of la minestrone, you will attain to such perfect attunement with all the scents, savors, sounds and textures all around you, that perfect tempo will reverberate from your soul to pace your paring and introducing of each vegetable into the minestra simmering and burgeoning. Short of that, you stumble along and hope capricious chance will capriciously favor rather than disfavor your best efforts at timing.

The above vegetable line-up is from my vintage 80’s Brooklyn index-cards recipe. My current practice is different, and if not better in itself, then better for you, I bet, Gentile Reader. As I say, minestrone is such a lot of work, I don’t think it likely to made from scratch. It’s not a fussy dish, so I don’t fuss over it. For one thing, when I plan to make it, I make minestra di verza for dinner earlier in the week, which produces a great quantity of Savoy cabbage braise, and hence leftovers. Moreover, I almost always put potatoes in my Savoy braise, so I have two minestrone members accounted for. Since the cabbage and potatoes are pre-cooked, they go in at the end together with the beans. As to beans, canned pinto beans are just fine for minestrone, so long as they have nothing added to them but salt and water (and then I don’t hesitate to add in the thick liquid from the can along with the beans). If you, for your part, want to sort and soak pinto beans the day long and then boil them for an hour, God be with you.

So, I make my chunky little sauce as for pasta ‘n potatoes, with onion & garlic, carrot & celery, and tomato (plus maybe pepper, be it black or red). However, for minestrone I use proportionately more onion and tomato—say, for half a cabbage, a mega-onion and 2-3 cups of chopped tomato, plus ½-cup of everything else—still aiming in the end for a minestra that is orange rather than red (whatever else it may be, minestrone is NOT tomato soup).


Once my chunky little aromatics red sauce is made, I add to it a couple cans of chicken broth plus as much boiling water. When all that liquid comes to a lively simmer, I add the peas and string bean cuts (frozen rather than fresh are fine), with their shower of salt. While the peas and green beans are at full simmer for 10 or so minutes in the tomatoey broth, I cut up potatoes to add with the Savoy cabbage, which was previously chopped down to chunks 1”x½” and parboiled for 5-10 minutes in salted water (to reduce gas). After 10-15 minutes of simmering has softened the peas and green beans, I add the chopped potatoes and cabbage together with a can of pinto beans, which turns the minestra orange, and bring the pot back to a full simmer.  After at least 10 minutes more of lively simmering, I taste to see if the vegetables have softened and traded flavors. I keep simmering until a spoonful tastes tender and polyphonic. Needless to say, add salt and pepper as needed.

If I use leftover Savoy braised with potatoes to make minestrone, I chop it down into spoon size bites. Once the three green things have simmered in the red broth for 15 minutes, I add in the three pre-cooked whites—cabbage, potato, and pinto beans—which turn the red broth orange. When the minestra reheats to a full simmer, simmer 5-10 minutes more, to mingle the members and marry their flavors, before tasting a spoonful.

This minestra gets better when it sits, so it’s good if you can make it early in the day. In this case, it’s better to undercook your minestra a bit, since you will have to reheat it to mix in the pasta. If you should overcook your minestra, it’s important not to overcook your pasta. But don’t err in the other direction and end up with undercooked minestra. That’s worse. In the end, overcooked minestra with al dente pasta is much better than undercooked minestra. Minestrone is meant to mingle flavors and textures, and that won’t happen without a general softening. Tender hearted vegetables are desirable here, not al dente. A good minestrone, less blended than harmony but less contrasted than counterpoint, seeks harmonized polyphony. [Is that a thing?]

For minestrone you need sundry spoon-sized pasta, which may be troublesome if you don’t keep your cupboard well supplied with a variety of pasta shapes and sizes. I have no problem. One reliable fall-back is spaghetti broken down into inch-lengths. Classically, one also wraps the pile of spaghetti lengths in a kitchen towel and crushes them for variations of size. In addition, there are many sorts of spoon-sized pasta made for pasta-soups, such as small shells, orrechiete, ditalini, etc. You can also crush down to spoon-size in a kitchen towel such larger pasta as fusilli/rotini, cavatappi, or farfalle. In any case, the trick is cooking time. Ideally, you’d like the sundry pasta shapes to all have the same cooking time, and I’ve seen boxes of mixed pasta conveniently packaged for this purpose. Otherwise, you need to keep track of cooking times and introduce the pasta varieties into the boiling water in waves. Grandma managed just fine even without a timer, so you certainly can with the help of one.

As usual, you want to add the pasta to water salty as the sea, brought to a rolling boil. As usual, you stir the pasta frequently until the water comes back to a rolling boil. However, for minestrone you want to cook the pasta short of al dente, still chewy enough to stick in your molars, so as to finish cooking the pasta in the minestra. Also, you don’t want to drain the pasta as usual, but rather use a sieve to transfer it dripping into the minestra simmering.  Only transfer as much pasta as needed for a good proportion between minestra and pasta, roughly half-and-half; be ready to waste it if you cooked too much pasta

Pasta added, your minestra becomes minestrone. Simmer the pasta in the minestra, adding pasta water as needed to keep the minestrone as soupy as you want. Finish cooking the pasta just barely to al dente, as it will continue to soften as it sits. With the pasta thus barely cooked, take the minestrone off heat and mix in crumbs of Pecorino Romano. Let it rest and cool a bit, pot cover ajar. When ready to serve, mix in some grated Pecorino Romano (Parmigiano-Reggiano is also delicious in minestrone), and offer more at table.




It is impossible not to make too much minestrone. For this reason I try with fail to boil only enough pasta for the night’s serving, and set aside some of the minestra for mixing with freshly boiled pasta another night. With pasta soups in general, I aim for half as much pasta as usual, to more or less equal the bulk of the minestra. Usual for a first dish of sauced pasta is 6-4 persons per box, depending on Gentile-to-Italian ratio. Proportionally, for mixing with minestra I usually figure on 1/2-2/3 box of pasta, but for an "-one" of a minestra, 1/4-box each of 3-4 pasta shapes. As I inevitably end up with lots of leftover minestrone, I heat it up next day minimally in a covered skillet, adding minimal liquid, lest it go mushy. It tastes good drier as well, especially with extra grated cheese.

Minestrone is big. Though its name be an exception to a rule of nomenclature, it itself can be no exception to the rule of its nature, that pasta is is not dinner. Pasta is a first dish, to be followed by a second dish of flesh, however light, and together they make dinner. It doesn’t matter how many vegetables you pile on, it’s just a bigger pile of vegetables, and not a dinner, for as we well know, quantity can't make a quidditative difference, can it? Vegetables remain by nature side-dishes, first-dishes, or ante-dishes, even if multiplied ad infinitum. Trying to make dinner out of pasta ‘n vegetables is like trying to make dinner out of the wings of a dinosaur. It’s for the birds.

*

Savoy Cabbage Braise

*  Removing leaves old or blemished, first halve the cabbage lengthwise into halves, and then flat side down into quarters, and then crosswise into inch-thick strips. Put them to soak in a bowl of cold water.
*  Sauté an abundant amount of finely sliced onion, salted, in a pond of olive oil, covered, until sweaty and glistening with the oil. Uncover, and add one small clove of finely sliced garlic. Continue sautéing uncovered, flipping periodically, until the onion blushes golden.
*  Mix in several pelati (whole tomatoes, imported from Italy!), seeded and chopped, with salt. Add a hot red pepper or two, if you like it hot. Sauté the tomatoes for five minutes, down to saucey.
*   Drain the cabbage strips, and add them in with showers of salt. Slide a spatula under and over to bring up the oniony sauce and mix it with the cabbage. Cover, to sweat the cabbage, flipping it over once or twice, until it sweats shiney with the oil.
*  Meanwhile, optionally, peel, wash, and cut up a potato or two into inch-thick wedges.
*  Add boiling water and chicken broth, half 'n half, to barely cover the cabbage, together with the optional potato wedges. Bring the liquid up to a steady simmer, and cover the pot, with the cover ajar. Cook the cabbage to tenderly touthsome.
* Turn off the heat, and sprinkle some fork-crumbled pecorino-romano, or grated, or both. Let the cabbage rest a bit before turning it over to mix in the cheese.
*  Either serve it brothy in a bowl with crusty bread as a first dish; or else with a slotted spoon platter as a moist vegetable side.

*

Pasta 'n Potatoes

*  Sauté an abundant amount of finely sliced onion, salted, in a pond of olive oil, covered, until sweaty and glistening with the oil. Uncover, and add one small clove of finely sliced garlic. Continue sautéing uncovered, flipping periodically, until the onion blushes golden.
*  Meanwhile, slice carrot and celery to together equal the onion in bulk.  Slice them into slender discs, demilunes, or crescents, depending on size. Fold them into the onion blushed golden, with their share of salt. Sauté to glistening and aromatic.
*  Mix in pelati (whole tomatoes, imported from Italy!), seeded and chopped, with salt, to equal in bulk the aromatics. Add a hot red pepper or two, if you like it hot. Sauté the tomatoes for five minutes, down to a chunky aromatic sauce.
*  Meanwhile, cut peeled potato halves a few times lengthwise, and then crosswise pencil-thick, for spoonable cuts of potato; soak in water until ready to add to the sauce.
*  When the sauce is sauce, fold the potato pieces with their share of salt into the chunky aromatic sauce, and cover to steam to glistening, with a flip or two in between. When they glisten, add equal amounts chicken broth and boiling water, to cover by a few inches. Bring this liquid to a steady simmer, and simmer the potatoes to tender, 10-15 minutes. Taste and correct for more salt, pepper, or oil.
*  Boil pasta in water salty as the sea, at a rolling boil, until still too al dente. With a sieve or slotted spoon, transfer the pasta dripping to the simmering potato minestra, and finish cooking for a minute or two in the potato minestra.  As soon as the pasta is barely al dente, remove the pot from the heat and let rest.
*  Before serving, mix in Pecorino-Romano crumbled, grated, or both, with more for the table, along with pepper, black, red, or both.


*

Minestrone

*  Slice half a Savoy cabbage lengthwise in inch-wide lengths, and then cross-wise in half-inch chunks.  Soak in cold water while bringing a big pot of walter salty as the sea to a rolling boil (perhaps with red peppers or black peppercorns thrown in). Parboil the chopped cabbage for 5-10 minutes, to just tender.  Use a sieve or slotted spoon to remove the cabbage to a colander (and perhaps save the water for boiling the pasta later).
* Take a mega-onion and slice it finely into a mound of inch-long onion hair.  Sauté it salted in a generous pond of olive oil, covered, until sweaty and glistening with the oil. Uncover, and add one large clove of finely sliced garlic. Continue sautéing uncovered, flipping periodically, until the onion blushes golden.
* Meanwhile, slice carrot and celery to together equal the onion in bulk.  Slice them into spoonable discs, demilunes, or crescents. Fold them into the onion blushed golden, with their share of salt. Sauté to glistening and aromatic.
* Mix in pelati (whole tomatoes, imported from Italy!), seeded and chopped, with their share of salt, double the bulk of the sautéed aromatics. Add a hot red pepper or two, if you like it hot. Sauté the tomatoes, for five minutes, down to a chunky sauce.  Then add equal amounts of chicken broth and boiling water to cover by several inches, and bring the tomatoey broth to a lively simmer.
* Meanwhile, cut string beans down to inch-lengths, and soak with peas.  When the tomatoey broth hits a lively simmer, add the two greens, to simmer steadily for at least 10 minutes.
* Meanwhile, cut peeled potato halves a few times lengthwise, and then crosswise pencil-thick, for spoonable cuts of potato; soak in water until ready to add to the sauce.
* When the simmering beans and peas start to soften, add the chopped potato with the par-boiled cabbage and a cup or two of cooked pinto beans.  Bring the now orange minestra to a steady simmer and simmer 10 more minutes before tasting for tenderness, more salt, more pepper, or more oil.  As soon as the vegetables turn tender and the flavors blend polyphonically, turn off the heat and let the minestra rest.
* Break down at least 3 types of pasta to spoon-sized.  Boil them in water salty as the sea at a rolling boil.  Meanwhile, bring the vegetable minestra back to a simmer.  When the pasta is almost al dente, yet not, use a sieve or slotted spoon to transfer the pasta dripping into the simmering minestra.  Finish cooking the pasta to al dente in the minestra.  Now it's minestrone!
* Off heat, mix in Pecorino-Romano, crumbled, grated, or both.  Let the minestrone rest and cool a bit before serving in bowls, with more cheese and pepper at table.