Sunday in town! What a civilised way to spend the day. I met a friend at the Royal Academy of Arts to see the Treasures from Budapest exhibition, which was surprisingly interesting, once one got beyond all the Renaissance religious paintings and Baroque mythologies. There were some beautiful drawings, including some real gems by Leonardo, Raphael, Watteau, and some very fine paintings. The exhibition was not busy and it was lovely to stroll through the quiet rooms, while outside Piccadilly seethed with tourists lost in London. Afterwards, we walked down St James's Street, past the eccentric bookseller where we once worked together, through St James's Park, pausing every so often to admire a wonderful vista, lit by the most gorgeous autumn sunshine, and on to Jacky's flat in Pimlico for Prosecco and her homemade minestrone soup. Jacky and I first met when we worked at the Dictionary of Art in the late 1980s. She is probably the only friend with whom I could talk about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight without feeling horribly pretentious - indeed, this Medieval poem was the subject of our conversation the first time we met while doing some menial task such as stuffing envelopes (when one works as a publisher's dogsbody, as I did in my first job, one spends a great deal of time stuffing envelopes!). Jacky is also a fellow foodie: in fact, she came up with the nom de plume Demon Cook (she also named me Demon Shopper).

Jacky's minestrone was robust, flavourful and comforting,  just the thing after a walk in the cold autumn sunshine. The word 'minestrone' literally means "the big soup", and is one of the cornerstones of Italian cuisine, along with pasta. There is no set list of ingredients and there are many regional and seasonal varieties. I suspect any good cook has their own personal minestrone recipe: Jacky's was more "soupy" than mine, which tends to be thick, almost a stew, but it was packed with interesting flavours and ingredients, and it was so filling, I could not finish mine.

I tend to make my minestrone with whatever is in the fridge, but there are a few ingredients which I consider essential: tomatoes, bacon, carrots, onions, small pasta and beans. And fresh Parmesan or Pecorino to grate over the finished soup.

Other good things to put in minestrone:

Dark green cabbage, Cavolo Nero, or kale
Green beans
White beans
Salami, sliced
Fresh torn basil leaves

For an authentic Italian touch, throw in the hard rind of the Parmesan: it will soften and melt. Serve minestrone with a dollop of Pesto and lots of freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.


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