Today I awoke to gray skies. While the temperature wasn’t too cold, there’s something about a gray day that makes you want to snuggle back under the covers and hibernate, watching old movies and keeping warm. So that’s basically what I did, only the covers were on the couch, so I could enjoy all of the Christmas decorations around the house.
I decided it would be the perfect day to feed the craving I’d been having for a vegetable soup in Lidia Bastianich’s book, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy. I had made the recipe last year, and it was so full of flavor and so easy that it has stuck out in my mind as a “must make as soon as the weather turns cold” meal.
from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy
Makes 6 quarts
1 medium onion, cut in chunks
8 plump garlic cloves, peeled
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves (packed)
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 oz. dried porcini, soaked in 1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery
2 cups finely chopped carrots
2 cups chopped fresh ripe tomatoes
3 cups peeled and diced red potatoes (about 1.5 lbs)
12 cups cold water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 or 2 pieces outer rind of pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 small head curly chicory leaves, cut into bite sized pieces
5 oz. spinach, leaves trimmed
2 cups green peas (frozen or shelled from the pod)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving
Extra-virgin olive oil for serving
Put raw onion chunks, garlic cloves, basil, parsley, and 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a food processor bowl, and chop to a chunky-textured paste.
Pour the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil into the soup pot, and set over medium-high heat. Scrape in the paste, and cook, stirring often, as it sizzles and dries, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, lift the rehydrated porcini from the soaking liquid (reserve the liquid) and chop into fine bits. When the paste just begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, drop the porcini, the chopped celery, carrots, tomatoes, and diced potatoes into the pot, and stir well. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the potatoes become crusty and start to stick to the bottom.
Pour in the cold water and the porcini soaking liquid (except for the sediment in the container). Stir in the salt, and heat the water to a vigorous bubble. Drop in the cheese rind, partially cover the pot, and adjust the heat to maintain a steady bubbling.
Cook 45 minutes to an hour – until the vegetables begin to break down – and add the chicory, spinach, and peas. Return to a bubbling boil, and cook 30 minutes or longer, until the broth is concentrated and flavorful and the total volume has reduced by about a quarter.
To serve: Remove the rind from the soup. Ladle the simmering soup into warm bowls. Sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of freshly grated cheese over each portion, and finish with a swirl of excellent olive oil. Pass more grated cheese at the table.
Refrigerate or freeze the leftovers.
Dairy free and vegan alternatives: Omit the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, and either replace the Parmigiano-Reggiano garnish with vegan parmesan, or simply omit. This recipe has plenty of flavor already from the herbs and garlic!