Three weeks ago to the day, an orthopedic surgeon made three small incisions in my right shoulder to fix a recurring dislocation problem. Since then, there have been things that I’ve temporarily had to bid adieu to, including pantihose, chopsticks, bras, clothes-folding, bed-making, hair-styling, hugging people with both arms and sleeping in any other position than corpse-pose. It’s bewildering that I’ve managed to look remotely presentable this last little while – barring those first few days at the beginning when I looked like something you might find in the recesses of your couch cushions. Luckily, the people in my day-to-day didn’t seem to notice. That, or they’re magnificent liars. I can appreciate either.

Despite feeling like a gimpy three-legged dog over the last couple of weeks, it hasn’t been all bad. In fact, I’ve taught myself some pretty neat tricks, like putting on socks with one hand, applying liquid eye-liner like a lefty and resisting the urge to catch things when I drop them (anthropological note: watching passively as your most beloved piece of porcelain escapes your grip and shatters into a gazillion pieces on the floor is an interesting testament to the strength of human willpower). Equally interesting is the realisation that you will not be able to sweep said shards of porcelain into a dust pan in order to discard them. Human ingenuity dictates that a quick sweep with one’s sock to hide the evidence in the corner of the room will do the trick. That is, until your mother visits with food and casually asks if you need help “tidying up”.

Having relied almost exclusively on the care-packages of a lovingly doting mother and take-out sushi from down the street, the extent of my kitchen activity has involved reheating leftovers and pouring the contents of plastic containers onto plates, which, as you might have guessed, is as enchanting as it sounds.

I recognise that things could have been worse (on all sorts of accounts). But I missed my pots and pans and various kitchen implements. It felt like I hadn’t used them in so long that on any given day they might mobilize and walk out the front door, bereaved and weepy. But this past weekend I reached a recovery milestone: being able to wield a knife and chop things. Hallelujah.

Below, I bring to you the first real thing I’ve made in the last 3 weeks – from beginning to end – in my kitchen, WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS. I may not yet be able to shave my right armpit, but it looks like I can still make a mean minestrone – gimpy arm and all.

Minestrone (serves 4)

  • 1 small onion
  • 1/2 leek, finely chopped (white part only)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 stalk of swiss chard, finely chopped (spinach or kale could be used instead)
  • 1/2 cup white vermouth
  • 1 litre home-made chicken stock
  • 1/2 can crushed tomatoes (or better: 1/2 jar of Nonna’s tomatoes)
  • 1 can cannelli beans (or better: dried beans, soaked overnight & cooked)
  • 1/2 cup small pasta, preferably ditalini (“little thimbles”)
  • a few sprigs of parsley, chopped (fresh basil or thyme also work – just go easy on the thyme)
  • olive oil
  • salt to taste

Optional: fried garlic and pine nuts (to serve)

Directions

Prepare a dutch oven with some olive oil and set on the stove at medium-high. Once the oil starts to get warm, add the onions, leek and garlic sauté until translucent.

Add the carrot and cook for about 2 minutes. Then add the celery and swiss chard and cook for another minute. Pour in the vermouth and stir. Add the crushed tomatoes, parsley, broth and some salt. Give a good stir and reduce the heat to low.

Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes then add the beans and the pasta (cook until al dente). Feel free to add more broth or water if you think it looks too thick (note: you can extend the cooking time to let the flavours settle in a bit more – but don’t add the pasta until the end and be sure to start with more liquid).

Serve with fried garlic and pine nuts and a generous shaving of parmesan.