This lovely statue of San Francesco d’Assisi is in Sorrento and I spent over an hour sitting on a bench admiring its wonderful lightness of form.
Francesco is known for his gentle respect to animals and, because he used everyday vernacular Italian in his poetry and music, he is known as the patron saint, patrono, of the Italian language, la bella lingua. There are homages to this humble saint il più umile dei santi all over Italy and, in Palermo, I found my way to a church dedicated to il Poverello, the Little Poor Man.
Francesco’s Feast day is 4 October and a good day for a simple meal. I made minestrone.
But before I start on the soup, please let me show you a little of the church in Palermo.
La Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi, Palermo
I’m always thrilled by the idea of the piazza outside a church being used for ordinary, mundane activities, like eating.
This church was built about 1255 and it survived not only earthquakes, but the devastating bombings of 1943. Much of the interior has been restored to its original medieval appearance with cylindrical columns and wide Gothic arches. It adds up to a light, airy sense of space.
See the beautiful wooden ceiling?
My photos all come out dark but, even if I had a barrage of floodlights, I wouldn’t bring them into a church. People worship here.
And a tomb.
I don’t know who is in this sarcophagus or even if it’s a sarcophagus at all. It may be just another wondrous work of art. He is a knight certainly, you can see his armour, especially his shoes, his greaves and his sword.
He has a sweet and graceful face, don’t you think? A very young face too with that plump little roll under the chin.
This young knight may not have tried minestrone, he probably ate richer food with plenty of meat, the Cucina baronale. Surely he wouldn’t have had much of the food of peasants, of San Francesco, the Cucina povera.
I prefer minestrone more like a stew than a soup, a meal in itself. It’s typical cucina povera, you use whatever ingredients you have. The ingredients for this recipe are what I had to hand, dried fava and borlotti beans, and various vegetables. I didn’t have fresh tomatoes so I used a tin of whole Roma tomatoes and the last remaining stalk of broccoli in my fridge.
I’m a fan of fennel and add a good handful of the seeds to everything. I’m also going to decorate this soup with fronds of some wild fennel foraged from the banks of the local creek. If you don’t like fennel, forget it.
Serve with Pesto or without, but don’t forget the parmigiano and a drizzle of good olive oil.