Between the ages of 10 and 13, my family lived in Dhaka which was then the capital of East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh, and my mother to this day says that these were some of the happiest days of her life: all three children still at home with her (I went off to boarding in school in England at 13), her husband in a good job, living in a nice house, socialising with nice friends and having lots of domestic help in the house which never hurts. I remember this as a very happy time too and was very glad when someone from Farm View School, the school I used to go to, started a facebook page recently.
Food-wise, I can’t remember too much other than the fact that my mother preferred eating at home and so, unless invited by friends, the only time we ever ate out was at a Chinese restaurant or at the Shabagh Hotel. I remember loving chips and ketchup! And Danish pastries from the Intercontinental Hotel. My mother forbade us to drink coca-cola, so it really was a treat when we were allowed to have one. We didn’t have fresh milk, only powdered. No chocolate, it just didn’t exist in such a hot climate. No fresh loaves of bread, only slices of white bread. Lovely fruit, inlcuding papaya and mangoes and lychees. Ladyfingers was the name for Okra and Brinjal the name for aubergines/eggplant.
And basically we ate what I suppose was an unexciting, post-colonial British-influenced cuisine for quite a long time before my mother’s innate Italianness kicked in and she took over the kitchen. I don’t think it’s easy for us to appreciate, over forty years later, how fiercely territorial our cook might have been and how difficult he made it for my mother to even step into “his” kitchen. All I remember is that after one leave spent back home in Italy, my mother returned with seeds with which to plant plum tomatoes, rocket/arugula, lettuce and other vegetables in our garden. She bought a lamb to fatten up for Easter but my two younger sisters grew very fond of it and so no-one had the heart to slaughter it, and so another one was bought, and the same thing happened and we ended up with two sheep and lots of sheep-poop in the garden (eventually a goat was bought and did get slaughtered). We had a coop with chickens and even geese and so we had our own eggs. She started making home-made bread. She even made sausages. My mother is a wonderful cook and all our friends loved coming round for meals, obviously.
The one thing she didn’t make a lot of was, curiously enough, pasta. And I think that’s because we didn’t have olive oil and we didn’t have parmesan or pecorino or any cheese for that matter. Consequently, our typical evening meal invariably began with soup. Clear soup. Clear vegetable soup with no croutons or oil or parmesan to make it more appetising. Coloured vegetable water. How I dreaded that part of the meal …! and though I wasn’t forced to finish the whole plateful, I was indeed politely but firmly invited to have at least a few tablespoons because “it’s good for you”.
Indeed, soups are very good for one but they have to taste nice too otherwise what’s the point! When my two children were growing up, I often made soup (especially in Winter) but for some reason neither my son nor my daughter liked the ‘look’ of minestrone, nor any other soup with ‘bits’ floating around in it, and so I had to process it and serve it as a thick, slurpy soup – passato di verdure. A sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese, a little drizzle of olive oil and voilà … it all got finished with audible sounds of appreciation.
Apart from its health-promoting qualities (excellent, by the way, if you want to go on a diet because it’s also quite filling), a passato di verdure is very low on the culinary skills list, doesn’t need to be ‘watched’ much while cooking, and can be frozen for future use. The other day whilst trying to finish uploading the photos for the blog (which was taking forever!), I was so behind the idea of what to make for dinner that ‘passato di verdure’ was the only thing that came to mind. Brilliant. Just briliant. It’s so easy to make, it almost makes you feel as if you have ‘cheated’! And remember: it’s good for you!
Mmmm what have we here? Carrots, courgettes/zucchini, onions, 1 potato, celery and swiss chard. You can put whatever vegetable you like but these are ‘typical’. I didn’t have any tomatoes that day … one tomato would have been nice.
washed and trimmed …
For that amount of vegetables, I thought 1 liter of water was going to suffice.
Notice how the 1 liter of water doesn’t even cover all the vegetables. that’s okay … the vegetables release their own liquid and I like my soups “slurpy” and thick.
cover with a lid and cook for about 20 – 30 minutes on a low heat.
get your stick blender out and have some more water to hand in case you want to dilute the soup a little. (As it turned, I did not.)
start processing making sure you keep the blender well down into the veggies, otherwise it spatters everywhere (happens to me all the time!) ….
when you have finished processing the passato, add salt to taste … pepper too if you like, or chilli.
pour a little olive oil …
sprinkle a little grated parmesan cheese …
ready to enjoy. Those clear vegetable soups in Dhaka so many years ago might have been good for one, but a passato di verdura tastes so much better!
N.B. I happen to love its colour too … and isn’t green the colour of the heart chakra? But if you think your children might it deem a tad too green to entice them, just add more carrots to the mix … the orange of the carrots will ‘dilute’ the green to a paler hue.