Cauliflower and pasta soup, like in Livorno

We moved to Ottawa a few months ago, and it took us a while to get comfortable in our new house. Most of all, it is (still) taking me some time to adjust to the smallest kitchen in existence, so cooking and meal planning is quite a challenge. Taking food pictures is even more challenging, and I am still working on it.

This is why I kept cooking to a minimum in the summer, limiting myself to grilling a piece of meat on the barbecue, and serving it with one or two vegetables, keeping it too simplistic to even think blogging about it.

Now that cooler weather is arriving, time to start thinking about where I am going to put my photo studio.

This very simple soup takes its origins in Tuscany, Livorno more precisely, and I was curious by its distinctive name: minestra con la palla alla Livornese. I did not know what ”la palla” was, and it is deceptively simple: palla simply means ball in Italian.

”The ball” they are referring to is the ”cauliflower ball”, a small head of cauliflower, with its leaves. The cauliflower leaves are an important part of this dish, so try to find an intact cauliflower with all its parts still on it. They are quite tasty, you simply wash them, slice them thinly and add them to the soup. The soup needs to be quite thick, almost like a pasta dish, but if you prefer it thinner, feel free to add more broth.

I have made this soup several times now, and we all love it. It is a perfect fall primo piatto.

Minestra con la palla alla Livornese

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 head cauliflower, with the green parts (see above)
2 litres vegetable broth
300 g spaghetti
salt and pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish


  1. In a large heavy bottom pot over medium-low heat, cook the onion, carrot and celery until soft, about 7-9 minutes, stirring often.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.
  3. Add the tomato paste and tomatoes and continue to cook until the mixture has thickened and resembles a paste, a few more minutes.
  4. Add the vegetable broth, the sliced green parts of the cauliflower and and the cauliflower florets. Cover, bring to boil, then reduce to simmer and cook until the vegetables are soft, 20-30 minutes.
  5. Grossly mash the cauliflower with a potato masher or a fork, leaving chunks of it in the soup.
  6. Break the spaghetti into fourths and add it to the soup. Cover partially and cook until the pasta is al dente.
  7. Correct for salt and pepper and serve immediately, with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, an extra grinding of black pepper and lots of parmesan at the table.

Minestra con la palla

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