Quinoa is certainly not an Italian food. In fact, until recent food fads, I don’t think it was much of anyone’s food except for certain South American peoples. Now quinoa is found in almost everything as a great source of protein and other nutrients. Although it should be noted that quinoa is not as high in protein as certain beans. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quinoa
Kale is another new addition to the contemporary health conscious menu. Like quinoa kale was completely unknown in the Italian kitchen and, I would venture to say, almost unknown in anyone else’s kitchen.
In the Italian kitchen the leafy green is Swiss chard, “bietolo” (bee-eht-tow-low). I can still see the chard growing tall and green in the neighbor’s tiny garden plot even late into the Fall. Kale, I know I never saw. In fact, there is really no specific translation for kale. The dictionary will give you “cavolo,” but that translation doesn’t tell you much. “Cavolo” (kah- voh-lo) is a generic term for just about anything in the cabbage family.
Still, I think I can say with some accuracy that if quinoa had been known to our Italian ancestors it would most certainly have figured in the cuisine. Its “semola,” “pastina,” “couscous” quality is very Italian indeed. But, while other South American products such as tomatoes and peppers became staples of the Italian diet and are immediately indicative of Italian American food, quinoa never made it to Europe.
In this recipe I have replaced the traditional ditalini pasta with the quinoa. To the Swiss chard I have added some kale. The vegetables in this minestra, since I am preparing this version in mid-February, are all winter roots. Were it summer, I would use summer vegetables like squash and eggplant. For the stock I always use my own beef stock. To enrich the stock you might use a good half-bottle of red wine to deglaze the beef bones before adding the water. I must also that in the end, it would not be so bad to add a good cup of ditalini to finish off the minestra. The quinoa, while nutritious, doesn’t have much body. The choice of beans is also up to choice. For tradition sake, in this recipe I use cecci beans (garbanzos) and red beans. All in all, with whatever variations you may choose, this is a hearty minestra ideal for cold winters.
Getting everything together