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#1117 - Tuscan Soups for the Winter
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January 15 #1117 Tuscan Soups for the Winter
2012 has been a great travel year for Al. Vacations in Normandy, Belgium and Tuscany broadened his horizons and provided him with plenty of ideas for the kitchen. His recent trip to Florence brought him in contact with a genre of cooking that he fell in love with: the creation of Tuscan soups. After looking into the subject, Al came to the conclusion that the most important ingredient in good soups is the clock on the wall. You need to take your time and let these soups come together in a way that suggests culinary alchemy.
This is perhaps The Tuscan Soup. Its name means re-boiled, and it does sound better in Italian. Food historian Clifford Wright thinks this may be one of the oldest recipes in Europe, since it is a cabbage based soup with simple garden ingredients. Today's versions (and I am certain no two are alike) let you get creative with various categories of ingredients: leafy greens and varieties of beans, for example. You can use a vegetable broth, or chicken broth or whatever suits your fancy, but the secret is to cook it once, put it away overnight, then cook it again when you're ready to serve it. Here's a recipe for it:
13 cups (or more) water, divided
1 1/4 cups dried cannellini (white kidney beans; about 8 ounces)
12 large fresh sage leaves
8 garlic cloves; 5 sliced, 3 chopped
2 teaspoons (or more) fine sea salt, divided
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus additional for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
2 large celery stalks, diced
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 large unpeeled Yukon Gold potato, scrubbed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered through core, sliced crosswise
1 large pinch of dried thyme
1 small bunch black kale,* cut crosswise into 1-inch ribbons (about 6 cups)
1 small bunch green chard (about 4 large leaves), center stem removed, cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide ribbons (about 6 cups)
4 cups thinly sliced savoy cabbage
5 large plum tomatoes, chopped
1 2-inch square Parmesan cheese rind
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
2 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
6 1/2-inch-thick slices country white bread, coarsely torn with crusts
1. To soften the beans, combine 8 cups water, beans, sage, and sliced garlic in large saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until beans are tender, stirring occasionally and adding more water by 1/4 cupfuls to keep beans submerged, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on age of beans. Add 1 teaspoon sea salt; simmer 10 minutes. Uncover and cool beans in liquid. (You can soak the beans one day ahead. Cover them in the pot with cooking liquid, and chill them.)
2. The next day, heat 3 tablespoons oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion; sprinkle with sea salt. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add chopped garlic; stir 2 minutes. Add celery, carrot, potato, fennel, and thyme; cook until vegetables are tender and begin to turn brown in spots, stirring often, 15 to 18 minutes.
3. Add kale, chard, cabbage, tomatoes, Parmesan rind, 5 cups water, and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Add beans with their cooking liquid and crushed red pepper. Add 2 cups broth. Season with salt and generous amount of pepper.
5. The soup should be made 1 day ahead. Cool, cover, and chill. Rewarm before continuing the next day. Before serving, add bread to soup and simmer, stirring often to break up bread into smaller pieces and adding more broth by 1/2 cupfuls to thin, if desired. Season with sea salt and pepper.
6. Divide ribollita among bowls, drizzle with oil, and serve.
Bean and Barley Soup
On the menu this was listed as Zuppa di Farro e Fagioli, and I made the mistake of ordering a big bowl of it one night, along with a big veal chop. I had trouble finishing the veal. This soup if thick, rich and fulfilling in a primal way. It should be a meal in itself.
The soup can be given complexity by using several different beans, and its texture can be altered by the use of a submersible hand blender, which purees the beans early in the process, creating a thicker, fuller structure. Here's a good recipe:
Tuscan Bean and Barley Soup
tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, diced
2 cups dried beans, soaked overnight and drained (cranberry, cannellini, white kidney, or great Northern beans)
6 cups water, or ham broth
4 garlic cloves, minced
5 sprigs fresh rosemary
5 sprigs fresh sage
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup pearl barley
fresh ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
parmesan cheese, curls
1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add pancetta and sauté until golden brown and crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels; set aside.
2. Add onion, carrot, celery, and fennel to the pot; sauté until softened, about 6 minutes.
3. Add beans, garlic, rosemary, sage, thyme (in a bouquet garni of cheesecloth), and about 6 cups water, or as much as is needed to cover the beans by about 2 inches; bring to a boil. Decrease heat and simmer until beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. After that, discard rosemary, sage, and thyme sprigs.
4. Meanwhile, cook barley according to package directions and set aside.
5. Using an immersion blender, or in a food processor or blender in batches, puree soup until smooth.
6. Add the cooked barley and pancetta to the pot; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
7. Ladle into heated bowls, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with Parmesan curls.
Again, we have a soup whose Italian name, acqucotta, sounds better than its translation: baked water. I think it relates to the famous story of the stone soup, where a clever shepherd got passersby to toss something into the pot of simmering stone soup. I don't know how it got the name, but this is a vegetable soup with tomatoes and mushrooms added, usually garnished with eggs, a slice of bread and a healthy drizzle of high quality olive oil. And the inclusion of hot peppers takes the soup in a different direction than ribollito.
5 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 1/4 cups fava beans
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 crumbled chili pepper
salt to taste
12 oz spinach or Swiss chard, cleaned and shredded
10 oz of firm ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
6 1/2 cups boiling water
4 large eggs
grated Permigiano Reggiano or Pecorino cheese
4 slices stale white bread
1 garlic clove
1. Pour the oil into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the onions, peas, fava beans, carrot, celery, chili pepper, and a dash of salt. Sauté for about 10 minutes until tender and lightly browned. Add the chard or spinach and the tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Pour in the boiling water and leave to simmer gently for 40 minutes, adding more salt if necessary.
3. Using a fork or balloon whisk, beat the eggs with salt, pepper, and the grated Parmigiano or pecorino cheese.
4. Toast the bread and when golden brown, rub both sides of each slice with the garlic. Place a slice in each soup bowl and pour a quarter of the beaten egg mixture over each serving. Give the soup a final stir and then ladle into the bowls. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and add a pinch of pepper.
For a lovely video depicting the legend of the stone soup go to this website: