Tag Archives: Italian

Mama’s Minestrone

Minestrone1Minestrone is such a wonderful soup.  It’s low calorie yet jam-packed with flavour and vitamin goodness and is so easy to make.  Below is my recipe – not authentic but utterly delicious.  The use of Spanish chorizo gives a delicious, rich smokey undertone that I personally love.  (This would make a good vegetarian supper – just leave out the chorizo – the beans, of course, providing a good source of protein).  That’s the beauty of this soup – make it your own with your own combination of favourite Summertime herbs and vegetables and don’t get too strung out on amounts.  If you over enthusiastically end up with a little too much veg in the pot, just add more stock to compensate.

One word of advice before we begin – try to chop the veg consistently quite small (cm cubes should do it).  It’s not a deal breaker but the finished product will look so much prettier.

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8 )

50g Spanish chorizo, cubed

2-3 tbsps olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 medium carrots (about 170g or 6 oz), chopped

2 sticks of celery, chopped

4 new potatoes (about 170g or 6 oz), chopped

85g / 3 oz  petit pois (baby peas)

85g / 3 oz French green beans, cut into 1-2 inch pieces

1 x 400g tin (14 oz) chopped tomatoes

1 x 400g tin (14 oz) cannellini or white haricot beans

1 tsp fresh thyme

1.5 litres (6 cups) good vegetable stock

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve (optional): fresh, grated Parmesan cheese and maybe a drizzle of olive oil


Heat the oil in a large saucepan and toss in the chorizo and then the onion.  Allow to fry gently for 2-3 minutes and then add the carrots, potatoes, celery, peas and beans.  Stir and continue to fry gently for another 2-3 mins, just to let the vegetables begin to ‘sweat’.  Add the chopped tomatoes, beans, thyme, vegetable stock and black pepper.  (I would only add extra salt, if needed, at the end of cooking because most commercially prepared stocks already contain a lot of salt).  Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat right down, partially cover the pan and allow the soup to simmer gently for 30 minutes.  At the end of this time check how the hardest vegetables are doing – they should be yielding but not mushy – and taste to check the seasoning.  If needed, leave to simmer for a further 10 minutes.

To serve, you can sprinkle this soup with a little fresh, grated parmesan cheese and/or a drizzle of extra virgin olive  oil.  This soup is very nice served with warm, crusty French bread.



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On the Wish List

Am I going through some kind of mid-life crisis or something?  I’m not a ‘bike’ person at all but I came across this today and instantly thought ‘Oooo, I’d like one of those!’  I wouldn’t have any trouble parking it…but I’m just not sure where I’d put the groceries. (…A basket fitted to the front? ….Hanging off the handlebars?…)  😉

Piaggio Mp3


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Authentic Bolognese (Italian Ragu Sauce)

Spaghetti BologneseBolognese – the mainstay of the British student population.  It’s a wonderful, easy to make sauce that we all know and love, so much so that even those who don’t normally cook will defend their version as being the best.  Yes you can add ‘stuff’ to it and yes it will doubtless taste delicious but did you know that there is now an ‘official’ Bolognese Sauce?  Oh yes there is!  In 1982 the Bologna Chamber of Commerce asked the Accademia Italiana della Cucina to come up with the town’s official version.  As decreed by them therefore, it should contain: beef, pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste, white wine and milk***.  That’s it.  Nothing more.  If you want to cook up the official version, may I suggest the recipe below (based around a recipe by great cookery writer Elizabeth David). 

***We don’t like the addition of milk in this sauce and like all home cooks I’ve tweaked this recipe ever so slightly to suit our family’s tastes.  If you want to follow my recipe, you’ll find it here.  (And, naturally, like all home cooks, I think mine is better)!

Authentic Bolognese Sauce


8 oz lean minced beef

3 oz pancetta , cut into small pieces

A small amount of butter (about 1/2 oz)

1 onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 stick of celery, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of concentrated tomato puree

1 wineglassfull of white wine

2 wineglassfulls of water

1 wineglassful of milk

Salt and pepper to season



Melt a little bit of butter in a saucepan and gently brown the pancetta. 

Add the onion, carrot and celery and when the onion is golden, add the raw minced beef.  Keep turning so that it browns evenly and breaks up in the pan.

Add the tomato puree and white wine.  Season with salt (remember that the pancetta is already salty so season with a light hand) pepper, and finally add the water.  Give it all a good stir, then cover the pan and and let it simmer very gently for 30-40 minutes.

Finally, add the milk and let it finish heating through for a few minutes.

The correct way to serve this is to put the cooked spaghetti in a heated bowl and then mix in the sauce so that the pasta is well covered with the sauce.  Add a knob of butter if you wish and then hand around freshly grated parmesan separately.  


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Bolognese Sauce a la Gentle Voice

Spaghetti BologneseNo apologies for the closeness of this recipe to the authentic Bolognese, (recipe as decreed by the Bologna Chamber of Commerce in 1982 ).  You will notice, however, that one major difference is that we like our sauce!  I figure this will feed 4 – 6 people.  (My occasional ‘extras’ to ring the changes in this sauce are also noted below).

Bolognese Sauce a la Gentle Voice


1 lb (450g) lean minced beef

4 oz (120g) of  pancetta or, failing that, smoked streaky bacon, cut into small pieces

1 large onion, chopped

1 stick of celery, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 x 450g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon of concentrated tomato puree mixed into half the above tin of water

1 wineglassfull of white wine

2 tablespoons of olive oil

Salt, pepper, grated nutmeg to season

To serve: Grated fresh parmesan cheese  to spinkle on the top



Gently heat the olive oil then add the pancetta and cook until browned. 

Add the onions and celery and when the onion is golden add the crushed garlic.  Stir for a minute or so (garlic should not be allowed to brown), then add the raw minced beef.  Keep turning so that it browns evenly and breaks up in the pan.

Add the wine, a little at a time so that it is absorbed into the meat.  Then sling in the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and water.

Season with salt (remember that the pancetta is already salty so season with a light hand) pepper and a light scraping of nutmeg.  Stir well. Partially cover the pan and allow it to simmer very gently for at least an hour.  Just keep checking the pan to make sure that the heat isn’t too high and it is therefore drying out.  If it looks like this is happening you can add a little more water + tomato puree, and make sure that the heat is down low.

Just before serving, check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.  For a slightly richer taste add a small knob of butter and stir.

Strictly speaking, the correct way to serve this is to put the cooked spaghetti in a heated bowl and then mix in the sauce so that the pasta is well covered with the sauce.  Hand around freshly grated parmesan separately.  


Occasional Gentle Voice extras and variations to that can the above basic ragu sauce

1-2 finely chopped chillis (to taste) – added with the onions and celery, or

1-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (added with the other wet ingredients), or

A few sprigs of fresh thyme, de-forested of their little leaves, or

A few torn fresh basil leaves, added at the very last minute

Butter (as mentioned above)



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