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Incavolata (Bean and Kale Minestra), Or, The Night Natalie Was Born

January 26, 2011

First things first: tonight I became an auntie. My strong and beautiful little sister, Beth, gave birth to her first child, a girl. Natalie Isabel. Isn’t that a gorgeous name? I’m over the moon already and I haven’t even seen a picture. I hear she’s a string bean—a bit over five and a half pounds, but twenty inches long. A “long, tall drink of water!” Joshua exclaimed. Bless her little body!

I was on pins and needles all day, waiting to hear from family about Natalie’s birth, trying not to worry, trying to play it cool (women do this all the time and have been for eons, right?), trying to pray, trying to not think too much about the pain my sister was absorbing while I browsed a local thrift store for baby hats. So when the phone rang right before we sat down to dinner, I bolted for the receiver. “Is she here?!?” I half-yelled. “She’s here,” said my mom, proud Nana twice over this year.

She’s here. Or in my case, she’s there, but I will meet her in two week’s time. Bless her little body and the body that nurses her now! We sat down to our dinner (Jacob squirming between us) relieved and grateful, proud and in awe—of Beth’s strength, and of the journey these wee ones make into life outside the womb. Our simple soup dinner was transformed into a celebratory feast.

(Jacob helping with dinner)

(Jacob celebrates the news of his cousin’s birth)

Our feast, may it be known, was all Joshua’s doing. Lest he become unfairly known as “the mac & cheese guy,” let me say right now that unlike yours truly, the man can follow a recipe. Add to this a generally (maybe even surprisingly) good palate, and he does alright for himself in the kitchen. More than alright. And, as you can see, he’s fairly proficient with a knife. That goes a long way in my book.

As to the soup. The surprising ingredient in this soup is cornmeal—not your ordinary soup-thickener—which makes this soup into a border-line polenta. Joshua noted that prior to the addition of the cornmeal the soup seemed awfully thin; one wouldn’t think half a cup of cornmeal would go as far as it does. My hunch is that this recipe is of Tuscan origin—or is Tuscan-inspired—given the beans. So numerous are the bean dishes common in Tuscany that Tuscans are known in Italy as mangiafagioli (bean-eaters). Our recipe is, again, from Sundays at Moosewood. We hope you find occasion to try it, though we doubt you’ll find better occasion for enjoying this soup than we did! Welcome to the world little Natalie!

The recipe:

Incavolata (Bean and Kale Minestra) from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant
Serves 6 to 8

½ pound kale (about 4 cups, chopped—we used lacinato)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
olive oil to coat the bottom of your soup pot
6 cups cooked (2 cups dry) cannellini (white kidney beans—we used navy beans)
4 to 5 cups bean water, vegetable or chicken stock or water
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
6 fresh sage leaves (½ tsp dry)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
freshly ground pepper
½ cup finely ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or to taste)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Remove stems from kale and coarsely chop the leaves. Soak the leaves in a bowl of cold water while you prepare the soup.
In the soup pot, saute the garlic in olive oil for just half a minute. Add about half of the cooked beans and part of the water or stock to the pot. Puree the rest of the beans and stock in a blender of food processor along with the tomato paste and sage. Stir the pureed beans into the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Drain the kale. Mix it into the soup and simmer for at least half and hour, until tender.
Mix the cornmeal with the lemon juice and enough water to make one cup. Pour this paste slowly into the simmering soup while stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Simmer the soup for another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings. Serve, topped with freshly grated Parmesan.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie Falsetti permalink
    December 20, 2011 9:37 pm

    Congratulations on becoming an aunt.

    I’m going to make the Incavolata tonight. A friend made it, but she couldn’t remember where she got the recipe. A search brought me to your blog.


    • January 3, 2012 2:45 pm

      Thanks, Julie! I hope the Incavolata turned out well–glad you found me!
      Happy New Year–Sarah

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