Rachel Roddy’s recipe for an autumn minestrone (or stew)

Rachel Roddy

Elena Spagnol published more than 20 cookbooks, among them: Presto e Bene (Quickly and Well); Allora, Si Mangia (And So, We Eat);La Gioia in Cucina (Joy in the Kitchen); Cucina Intantanea (Instant Cooking); Il Forno a Microfonde (From Oven to Microwave); and the beautifully titled L’Apriscatole della Felicità(The Can Opener of Happiness).

Spagnol was a highly respected translator, working on texts by Bertrand Russell and PG Wodehouse, when her first cookbook was published in 1967. The book was called Il Contaminuti(The Timer), a cookery book for women who work. Its aim, as with all her books, was to simplify cooking, eliminate unnecessary ingredients and find rapid and economical methods. It was a book born of her own experience as someone who loved and needed to cook, and loved and needed to work, too. Also, as someone who worked with words. As a translator, you are required to evaluate, acutely, each word the author chooses. Spagnol applied the same principle both to cooking and writing about it. No wonder she loved writing about the pressure cooker.

Spagnol’s books have sold more than a million copies, but none more than La Pentola al Pressione(The Pressure Cooker), published in 1974. Many reprints and numerous covers later, it still sits on the shelf in most bookshops. I bought mine recently, from La Feltrinelli bookshop in Bologna, a 2021 edition that marked the start of yet another round of reprints. A silver pressure cooker gleams from the cover, its matt handle firm and reassuring, while a subtitle notes that it is a “great classic of fast, good and infallible cooking”. It is full of soups, beans, braised meats, risottos (which Spagnol believed were sublime in the PC), briefly cooked vegetables, eggs and puddings.

Talking of which, my pressure cooker lives on the stove top now, partly because I’m not sure where else to put it and also because I know it needs to be visible – a shining cue – if I want to get into the habit of using it. Slowly, I have been rewarded by ideal beans, one of the best ragùs I have ever made, and apple puree fit for a queen. Also because I know it makes so much sense, as we march into winter, and as the cost of everything rises like anxiety. Catherine Phipps’ book is still living on the table and next to it, Spagnol’s, too, both of which inspired this week’s recipe for minestrone with beans, pumpkin, potato and greens, which, depending on how you cut the vegetables and how much liquid you use, can be a stew with large chunks or a minestrone with broken spaghetti. The instructions are for a pressure cooker, but it can be made in an ordinary pan, too.

Fast, good and infallible cooking. While you won’t get the cooking broth, tinned beans would work well, too, here. Although, these days, sadly, you probably won’t need to use your apriscatole della felicità.

November stew or soup with pumpkin, potato, beans and greens

Prep 15 min
Cook 20 min
Serves 4

4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stick, diced
400g peeled pumpkin flesh
, cut into large chunks for stew or small for soup
400g potato, cut into large chunks for stew, or small for soup
1 tomato, crushed, or 1 tsp tomato concentrate
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 parmesan rind

Vegetable stock, bean broth or water – 1½ litres for soup or 500ml for stew)
400g cooked borlotti beans
200g greens
(cabbage, chard, sturdy spinach), cut into ribbons
150g broken spaghetti (if you are making soup)

Put the oil, onion, garlic, carrot, celery and a pinch of salt in a pressure cooker and fry gently until the vegetables are starting to soften and smell good. Add the pumpkin, potato, tomato, rosemary and parmesan rind, cook for a minute, then cover with the stock or water. Secure the lid and put the pan on to the heat, and bring up to pressure. Then, once steam is released, lower the flame and continue cooking for eight minutes (or according to the manufacturer’s instructions).

Open the pot, add the beans, greens and spaghetti (the latter only if you are making soup), close securely again and bring up to pressure for five minutes more. Serve immediately.

To make this in an ordinary pan, simmer the pumpkin and potato mixture for 25 minutes before adding the beans, greens and spaghetti and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until pasta is cooked as you like it.

Courtesy: theguardian