The great chef’s life in Venice.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The spirit of a place can exist in the memories of a person. Gina Mondovecchi has that relation to Venice. To those who knew her, she was the city’s most stylish woman. Always seen in exquisite dresses, big hats and sandals with high heels, she herself designed her dresses, hats and sandals. She lived alone but was rumored to have many lovers. A record keeper in the island cemetery of San Michele, she died a few years ago. An ardent monarchist until her final breath, her last name means ‘old times’ in Italian.
It is also said that Ms Mondovecchi had a passion for pasta e fagioli. She always treated her hosts to this hearty soup. Her hosts, in their turn, always treated her to pasta e fagioli when she condescended to visit them in their homes.
The Delhi Walla became aware of Gina Mondovecchi one evening at the kitchen of Martina Gerotto, whose late father was Ms Mondovecchi’s childhood friend. A scholar of viruses such as Hepatitis C, dengue and chikungunya, Ms Gerotto lives with her husband, Guido, son, Alvise, and dog, Johnny, in a canal-side villa near the church of S. Giobbe in Venice.
“When you asked me to make something from my soul, I looked for a dish that could remind me of my past,” says Ms Gerotto. “It ought to be something very close to the people I really love, and I feel pasta e fagioli brings me back to a time when my parents were younger and they had many good friends, and they all frequently gathered together for meals… I remember my father’s childhood friend Gina Mondovecchi… so fantastic, so extraordinary, so beautiful… the most elegant woman in Venice. It was impossible to not to turn when she would pass by you. And she loved pasta e fagioli. So this is for Gina. My pasta e fagioli cannot be as good as hers but I’ll try my best.”
Here is the recipe of Ms Gerotto’s ‘Pasta e Fagioli’.
Pasta e Fagioli (for four)
600 g of fresh “Lamon” beans
100 g of “Trenette” or “Ditalini” pasta
4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
½ large white onion
1 stalk celery
salt and fresh ground pepper
1 laurel leaf (bay leaf)
50 g of bacon or pork lard
Rinse the beans well, place them in a large pot with 1 ½ liter of water.
Boil the beans until they are cooked (about 1 hour). Don’t salt the water or the skins will remain tough.
Drain about 1/3 of the beans and set aside.
Puree the rest of the beans with the cooking water and then put them back in the pot with he whole beans.
On another large pot, heat the olive oil and saute together the chopped onion, chopped pork lard and the celery. Cook by stirring for just 5 minutes until softened.
Add the beans and bring to boil.
Season the soup with salt, pepper, chopped rosmary and the bay leaf.
Cook by stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.
Add pasta and simmer, stirring often, until pasta is tender (see the package directions).
Leave to stand for 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavours to mingle. Reheat if you like, but in Italy soups are more often served warm rather than hot, even cold in summer. Top each portion with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The soup is even better if served a day after. It’s more flavoursome.
The making of Pasta e Fagioli
20. (Gina Mondovecchi)