Elena Spagnol has published more than 20 cookbooks, among them: Presto e Bene (Quick and Well); Alora, C. Mangia (So, We Eat); Joy in the Kitchen Instant cooking Il Forno a Microfonde (from oven to microwave); And the beautiful title “The Happiness Can Opener” (Happiness can opener).
Spagnol was a well-respected translator, working on texts for Bertrand Russell and P.G. Wodehouse, when her first cookbook was published in 1967. The book was called Il Contaminuti (The Timer) is a cookbook for working women. Her goal, as with all her books, was to simplify cooking, get rid of unnecessary ingredients and find quick and economical methods. It was a book born out of her own experience as someone who loved and needed to cook, and who loved and needed to work too. Also, as a person who works with words. As a translator, you are required to carefully evaluate each word chosen by the author. Spagnol applied the same principle to both cooking and writing about it. No wonder she loved writing about the pressure cooker.
Spagnol’s books have sold over a million copies, but not more than La Pentola al Pressione (Pressure Cooker), published in 1974. Many reprints and many covers later, it is still on the shelf in most bookstores. I recently purchased, from the La Feltrinelli bookstore in Bologna, the 2021 edition which marks the beginning of another round of reprints. The silver pressure cooker shines from the lid, and its matte handle is solid and reassuring, while the subtitle notes it’s “a great classic for quick, good, and impeccable cooking.” It’s filled with soups, beans, stewed meats, risottos (which Spagnol thinks are sublime in the PC), short-cooked vegetables, eggs, and desserts.
Speaking of which, my pressure cooker lives on the stove top now, partly because I’m not sure where else to put it and also because I know it should be visible – a bright signal – if I want to get into the habit of using it. Slowly, I was rewarded with perfect beans, one of the best ragouts I’ve ever made, and apple puree fit for a queen. Also because I know it makes a lot of sense, as we go through the winter, and with everything so expensive it’s like worrying. Catherine Phipps’ book still lives on the table and next to it is Spagnol’s book as well, both of which inspired this week’s recipe for beans, pumpkin, potatoes and vegetables, which depends on how you chop the vegetables and how much liquid you can use, it can be a stew with large chunks or minestrone with a broken casserole. The instructions are for a pressure cooker, but they can be made in a regular frying pan as well.
Fast, good, and impeccable cooking. While you won’t get cooking broth, canned beans will work well here, too. Although these days, unfortunately, you probably won’t need to use a file can opener happiness.
November stew or soup with pumpkin, potatoes, beans and vegetables
to equip 15 minutes
cook 20 minutes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onionPeeled and cut into cubes
1 clove garlicpeeled and thinly sliced
1 carrotPeeled and cut into cubes
1 stick of celerycubes
400 grams of peeled pumpkin meatcut into large pieces for soup or small for soup
400 grams of potatoescut into large pieces for soup or small for soup
1 tomatopowder or 1 teaspoon tomato concentrate
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 Parmesan crust
Vegetable broth, bean broth or water – 1½ liters for soup or 500 ml for soup)
400gm cooked borlotti beans
200 grams of vegetables (cabbage, chard, firm spinach), cut into strips
150gm macaroni, broken (if you are making soup)
Put the oil, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and a pinch of salt in a pressure cooker and sauté gently until the vegetables begin to soften and smell good. Add the pumpkin, potatoes, tomatoes, rosemary, and Parmesan peel, and cook for 1 minute, then cover with stock or water. Secure the lid and put the pan on the stove, then lift to press. Then, once the steam is released, lower the flame and continue cooking for eight minutes (or according to the manufacturer’s instructions).
Open the pot and add the beans, vegetables, and pasta (the latter only if you’re making soup), close it tightly again and keep it down for another five minutes. Feet it right away.
To make this in a regular skillet, simmer the pumpkin-potato mixture for 25 minutes before adding the beans, vegetables, and pasta and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the pasta is as tender as you like.