This article originally appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of Dream of Italy.
Nothing in this world tastes more like my nonna’s kitchen than Minestra e Pizza, a staple dish of Castelvetere sul Calore in the mountains of Irpinia in Campania.
The dish is made of vegetables like wild greens or swiss chard or dandelion greens; whatever is available at the time of preparation. The greens are cooked in salted water with onions and any part of the pig available- even ears, feet, or fresh sausage called cotenna. The pizza is actually a polenta made of corn flour cooked in a cast iron skillet until it becomes a sort of savory pie, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
The Castelveteresi were very resourceful with the ingredients they grew themselves during tough times. Even today, my grandma makes this dish in many different varieties, including anything she has found an abundance of in her garden or on sale at the supermarket. She has a reputation in the family for “taking risks” with recipes and filling in ingredients with whatever is available. One day she went out for a long walk around the neighborhood and returned home with two giant mushrooms she picked off of a neighbor’s tree. “Are these safe to eat?” we all asked. “Let’s see” she said.
When she was a little girl, her own grandmother used to give her fresh eggs to eat and instead of taking the eggs home and cooking them, she would go into the only candy shop in Castelvetere, barter the eggs and get some chocolates for a snack. This method of trading ingredients for food is partially to blame for the fluidity of the recipes of Castelvetere.
When I was a child I remember thinking “oh no, minestra and pizza AGAIN!” when I would eat at my grandparents’, but now it is one of my favorite dishes for when I’m feeling homesick or when I want to feel closer to them. I make it at home with less exotic pork products and often use sausage instead of the pigs’ ears. Don’t tell my grandma! She’d say the ears are the best part. –Danielle Abbazia
Recipe: Minestra e Pizza from Carmela Del Vaglio
1/3 cup polenta per person
1.5-2 lbs of greens (can be swiss chard, chicory greens or dandelion greens, even mild broccoli rabe)
1 can of cannellini beans
Pork meat like sausages, short ribs or pieces of pork to be boiled Q.B.
Hot pepper flakes if desired
1. In a big pot, add water, a generous pinch of salt, an onion and the desired pieces of pork meat. After a while, add the greens directly into the pot and cook until the veggies are soft- about 15 minutes. Once everything is cooked, add the cannellini beans and bring them to temperature.
2. In a separate bowl, mix the polenta corn flour with hot water according to the instructions on the package until it is well mixed and smooth. (Instant polenta is much quicker, but in the old days, they used the corn flour that took about 40 minutes to make.)
2. Add the polenta to a cast iron skillet, lightly coated in olive oil, and spread it evenly. Cook until the bottom has a nice hard crust then using a plate, flip the polenta to cook the other side. When the polenta firms up a bit, it is done. The inside will be softer than the outside crust, but should hold its form and not be runny. (This polenta was previously cooked in the fireplace and can still be done today for an added smoky taste.)
3. To serve, cut wedges of the “pizza” (the polenta) and add to a bowl with the vegetables and pork on top. Add hot pepper flakes if desired.