Ciao'd with a vase of yellow tulips keeping me company.

This recipe is the epitome of cucina povera or peasant cooking. It's home-based food that's not influenced by chefs or trends. Cucina povera is grounded in basic ingredients, historically gathered and grown on one's farm. Made with the freshest ingredients, whether truly fresh or preserved, the food manifests integrity and sings with flavor. In my recipe, I call for dried beans which would be used in traditional kitchens. If you're pressed for time, substitute 3 cups canned beans. 

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup dried cannellini beans*
Several sprigs each parsley, thyme, oregano
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fresh spinach, stemmed (about 8 cups), rinsed
1 pound boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 pound eggplant, trimmed, cut into ½-inch wedges
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup beef broth
Freshly ground black pepper

Rinse and drain the beans, picking them over to remove any debris. Transfer the beans to a medium saucepan, add cold water to cover the beans by 1 inch or so, cover the pot, bring to a boil, and then remove from the heat. Let rest 1 hour. Set the pan over medium heat. Add the herb sprigs, bay leaf, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Bring to a boil then uncover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the beans are tender, 1-1 ½ hours total. Test for doneness after 1 hour, adding more water as necessary to keep the beans submerged. Drain the beans and remove the herbs.

In a large deep skillet over medium heat, combine the spinach along with any water clinging to its leaves and a generous dash of salt. Cook until the spinach just begins to wilt, about 3 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a paper towel-lined plate. When the spinach is cool, wrap it in the paper towel and squeeze to remove as much water as you can. Coarsely chop.

Wipe the skillet dry and heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the lamb and garlic and cook, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent the garlic from burning, until the lamb is browned but still pink inside, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb to a plate and loosely cover to keep warm.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is browned and tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is browned and tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

Return the lamb and accumulated juices to the pan. Stir in the beans, spinach, oregano, and beef broth, and cook until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately.

*For a quicker version of this recipe, substitute 3 cups canned cannellini beans and skip the dried beans cooking method and ingredients therein.


Happy International Women's Day! Let's celebrate with a sip of soup. #BeBoldForChange

This is a great soup to serve as the season transitions from winter to spring. It's satisfying yet not overly heavy, with a lushness created by pureeing the beans. No heavy cream required. For a vegetarian version, delete the pancetta, and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken stock.

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 ounces chopped pancetta or bacon (about ¼ cup)
½ medium onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cans (each 15 oz.) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
5 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 generous handfuls fresh spinach leaves
½ cup grated Parmesan
Finely chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

In a 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat renders and the pancetta is just crispy, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, celery and sage, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the cannellini beans, broth, and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook 10 minutes more.

Remove the pan from the heat. Discard the bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Alternatively, puree the soup in batches in a blender. Return the pan to the heat and stir in the spinach. Cook until the spinach leaves wilt, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and black pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Garnish with the parsley. Serve at once.