madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


spinach and pasta soup

emerald goodness

This is a healthy, refreshing and quite good-looking soup. It’s one of my desperation recipes, meaning that I make it when desperately needing a nutritious and light meal in hardly any time. I often keep a bag of pre-washed spinach in the fridge, but I would not snob some good quality frozen ones, possibly organic.

I often use fresh pasta leftovers which I dry on a towel for a day or two and then roughly crush them with my hands to give it a rustic look. Bought fresh egg-noodles of any shape you like will do just fine, no crushing needed.

What makes the dish is that drizzle of olive oil at the end. The fruity creaminess of the oil brings out the herby intensity of the spinach.

This is a perfect occasion to open that bottle of olive oil you bought during your last holidays in Umbria.

Please don’t be tempted to cook the pasta in the soup, it will be chewy, you want it silky. Fresh noodles cook in no time so it’s not an effort.

If you are gluten free, this is a good recipe to use boiled rice leftovers too. As a further alternative,  you could substitute the pasta with two tablespoon cooked cannellini beans per person. Just warmed them first in a pan with a little garlic and olive oil before gently float them on the soup.


  • 1/2 kg (1 lb) spinach
  • 1 onion
  • 1 lt ( 1 quart) boiling water or stock
  • 1 teaspoon flour or corn starch
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) fresh pasta noodles per person
  • 2 teaspoon freshly grated Parmesan per person
  • a good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Dice the onion and soften it in two tablespoon olive oil in a  saucepan which must be large enough to hold the soup. Add the cleaned spinach leaves, cover and simmer slowly until the greens are wilted. Add flour or starch and stir. Add the boiling water or stock, simmer 3-4 more minutes, season and puree until smooth. Cover to keep warm.

In a separate pan cook the noodles in plenty salted boiling  water until al dente. Fresh tagliolini will take no more than one minute.  Drain and toss with one tablespoon of olive oil. Now quickly ladle the spinach puree into bowls, add the pasta, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan, drizzle with good EVO oil and serve immediately.

Serves 4

here, with your sprinkle of cheese


pasta e fagioli for pasta lovers

When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool - That's amore -(Dean Martin, 1953)

Italians have always been bean eaters. The bean is cheap protein after all.

Greeks ate lentils. Romans consumed  garbanzo beans and black-eyed peas daily. Commons beans arrived in Italy from America with Colombo and returned to America with Italian emigrants and their “pasta fazool”.

As for myself, I have had some bad bean experiences. The nuns at kindergarten fed us industrial amounts of a mushy porridge of rice and beans. Fatty pork rinds and overcooked macaroni have been looming in my father’s dinners. He’s the most Etruscan of the family.

As a consequence, I have become a bean snob, I only eat perfect beans. For that, I need good quality beans either fresh or dry, not canned. I need fresh herbs and good extra virgin olive oil. Last but not least, I do not mistreat my pasta. I use fresh egg pasta not ditalini or broken spaghetti. I cook it separately so it’s al dente. This way I get a heart warming, flavorful, wholesome dish. Just like it should be.


  • 3 lt (3 quarts) cold water
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 medium whole onion, peeled
  • 1 medium carrot, scrubbed
  • 1 celery stalk, leaves removed
  • 1 sprig of rosemary and a few sage leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) fresh tagliolini (narrow fettuccine) per person
  • 250 gr (8 ounces) borlotti or cannellini beans

Soak beans overinight in cold water, rinse and transfer in in a tall  saucepan. Add onion,  carrot, tomato, celery, herbs and water. Cover and simmer slowly until beans are tender. Season with salt and black pepper.

Pure half of the beans and return to pan. Cover to keep warm. Cook pasta in plenty boiling hot water until al dente. Fresh tagliolini will take no more than one minute.  Just before serving, ladle beans into bowls, add pasta and drizzle with good EVO oil.

Variation:chop 1 clove garlic and 30 gr.  (one ounce) pancetta or guanciale. Cook the garlic and pancetta in 2 tablespoon olive oil  until fragrant and add to the beans.  Stir and serve. Decorate bowls with chopped cherry tomatoes.

This recipe is from my friend Roberta, owner of Trattoria degli Umbria a lovely restaurant in the centre of Assisi.


black-rice and spelt minestrone

a vegetarian minestrone with farro and black rice

a healthy vegetarian minestrone with farro and black rice

MINESTRONE WITH FORBIDDEN RICE AND FARRO. Minestrone is a most democratic recipe, every region, town or family has their own which they will obviously consider as the best.  Regardless of the many variations however,  a good minestrone is  based on the combination of three elements: beans, vegetables and grains cooked in a vegetable or meat stock. In the past, the main ingredients were slow cooked until soft and virtually unrecognizable and reinforced with fatty meat trimmings like pork rind. Modern minestrone is more often made respecting the individual flavor, texture and cooking time of the ingredients and flavored with fresh herbs and peppery olive oil.

Here, instead of pasta, I use farro and black forbidden rice, an ancient Chinese variety of rice now cultivated in Italy with the alluring name of Venere rice. It has a high fiber content and a lovely nutty taste.


  • 1 large onion, thin
ly sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 rib celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup flowerets of cauliflower (about 1/4 head)
  • ¼ head of cabbage, leaves julienned
  • 1  zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 cup  cooked borlotti beans, well rinsed and drained if canned
  • ½ cup peeled and diced tomato
  • ½ cup diced potato
  • 1/2 cup of any other vegetable available in season (e.g. peas or green beans)
  • ½ cup farro and 1/2 cup rice OR 1 cup farro
  • 4 cups water or stock
  • 2 tablespoon parsley and/or basil finely chopped
  • 1/2 slice toasted Italian bread/person
  • 1 large garlic clove, halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan/person

In a large heavy saucepan make a soffritto by cooking onion, carrots and celery in olive oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until pale golden. Add all other ingredients and simmer until fragrant. Add hot water or stock, cover and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until the soup is thickened and the grains are cooked, about 30 min. Season soup with salt and pepper.

NB. Spring vegetable, like asparagus, peas or other delicate beans, should be added only for the last 10 min of simmering, in order to avoid overcooking. Some brands of farro and wild rice might need to be soaked overnight in cold water and might have different cooking times.

At this stage the soup can be frozen in portions or cooled and reheated when needed.

When ready to serve, toast bread, rub generously with garlic and cut into small cubes. Ladle the soup into soup bowls, scatter the chopped herbs and bread cubes over it, drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil per bowl and a tablespoon Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Note that the picture above has no bread croutons and Parmesan to demonstrate the texture of the soup when ready.



egg noodles in chicken broth

tagliolini noodles in chicken broth

TAGLIOLINI IN BRODO, that is ITALIAN NOODLE SOUP. This is comfort food for those brutal winter days when you need to re-warm your soul.

To be honest, I love it so much that I can eat it throughout the year except the middle of the summer.

When I make  fresh pasta , I always have enough  left over dough for  some noodles. I generally make tagliolini, i.e.  very narrow fettuccine. When they are dry but still flexible, I  twirl the noodles into nice little nests (see picture in this post) and freeze them. After a while I have enough noodles for a meal.

I also often make a pot of chicken stock for which I use organic chicken wings. The resulting broth is light, so it is not necessary to remove  foam, fat or strain it. The secret of this dish is in the fresh ingredients. Poor quality stock or pasta will ruin it.


  • 1/2 kg (1 pound) organic chicken wings
  • 3 lt (3 quarts) cold water
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 medium whole onion, peeled
  • 1 medium carrot, scrubbed
  • 1 celery stalk, leaves removed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) fresh tagliolini per person

Combine all ingredients in a stockpot and cover. Adding salt to the cold water prevents the formation of foam. Simmer gently for about one hour or until the chicken is cooked and the meat falls off the bones. Pour stock through a metal sieve to remove the chicken and vegetables.

Transfer the stock – about 1 cup per person – to a smaller pan and bring it to a high boil. Add noodles and cook briefly, no more than one min. if the noodles are fresh or two min. if frozen. The very thin noodles overcook quickly as they continue cooking in the hot stock.

Ladle broth and noodles into bowls and serve piping hot with grated Parmesan if desired.

Please do not cut the tagliolini with a knife. Eat with spoon and fork. The noodles should be rolled like spaghetti as shown in the picture above.


farro and lentil soup

ZUPPA DI LENTICCHIE E FARRO. Castelluccio di Norcia, in the South-East of Umbria is a tiny village located on a lonely outcrop at the centre of one of the most spectacular areas of Central Italy, the Piano Grande . The fields of this magnificent plain produce farro wheat, and the most delicious, tiny, tender  lentils.

lentil fields in the Piano grande di Castelluccio

lentil fields in the Piano grande di Castelluccio

Farro is an ancestral wheat with a characteristic nutty flavor. The term “farro” is a collective name of 3 species of grains, i.e.  emmer, einkorn and spelt. It is considered a healthy food for its high protein and fiber  content.  Ginger was used in Italian cuisine centuries ago, but virtually disappeared after the Renaissance. For a more traditional Mediterranean flavor, ginger  can be  substituted with a  sprig of rosemary or a handful of sage leaves, not both together!


  • 1 large onion, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup/250 gr.  small brown whole lentils
  • 1 cup/250 gr.  farro
  • parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 cups/ 1 lt. water or vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 large garlic clove, halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 slice toasted Italian crusty bread/person
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan/person

Some brands of farro might need to be soaked overnight in cold water. Most farro sold nowadays is pearled so does not need soaking.

In a 4-quart heavy saucepan make a “soffritto” by softening the  onion in olive oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until pale golden.  Add ginger and stir for 1 min. Add lentils and spelt, hot water or stock  and simmer, stirring occasionally, until soup is thickened and lentils are soft but still retaining their shape, about 30 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper only when cooked.

At this stage the cooled soup can be frozen. When ready to serve defrost, add some water –  it will be quite solid – and bring to a low boil.

Toast bread slices, rub generously with fresh garlic and then cut them into small cubes. Ladle the soup into soup bowls, scatter over each bowl the chopped parsley,  bread cubes , a  teaspoon of good extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan.  Serve immediately.

a light, healthy soup, almost a meal in itself

a light, healthy, nutritious soup, almost a meal in itself


Submitted to a Tasty Recipes and Cooking Station event


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