My native Cesenatico, in Romagna, is a fishing town and in the summer months a crowded beach resort, but pressing at the opposite edge of town from the beach, there is farm country, broad and luxuriant. My father had land there all his life where he kept some cows and grew wheat, sugar beets, and excellent sangiovese red grapes that were highly sought after by local wine producers.
Every morning, black-kerchiefed women come into town from the farms with fresh vegetables and fruit they have grown. Once, but sadly no longer, they used to bring a delicious runny cow’s milk cheese called scquaquarone, made at break of day. Set aside for them is a small open site in the oldest part of town where they conduct the littlest outdoor market I have ever seen. All of us know them, just as they know us, and hardly a morning passes by that we don’t stop to pick up not just some fresh vegetables, but the conversational thread whose beginnings coincide with their beginnings and ours.
The produce the farm women sell is rigorously seasonal and I recall their saying of Savoy cabbage that it isn’t ready to pick until it has felt the first hard chill of the year. I was there after such a chill to choose a head of cabbage, with the deeply ridged, dark green outer leaves of perfectly achieved maturity. The woman who sold it to me explained how I could use it to make the soup described below. Here you have a textbook example of the warm, mellow flavor of minestra in Romagna. A base of sautéed onion is the invariable point of departure, with spiced and aromatic notes conspicuously absent, and the minestra reaches completion at table with the almost obligatory condiment of the region, a shower of freshly grated Parmesan.
© 1997 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.