I've been reading Julie Powell's Julie and Julia: My Year of Co (Google Affiliate Ad). A fore-mother of the blogosphere, I am inspired by her modern day fairy tale, how she changed her life by experiencing and writing about food from her own unique perspective.
This little blog is a small nod to pioneers like Powell and it got me to thinking: Who is my Julia Child? Whose book would I cook from cover to cover? Lidia Bastianich comes to mind, at least in this season of my life. A bona fide nonna, her depth of knowledge and connection to the legacy that is Italian cuisine is beyond compare. Plus, her food is just plain good. As Michele and I prepare to open our next restaurant together, I look to artists like Lidia as guides.
So, I cracked open an old copy of "Lidia's Italy" and decided to play. Here is our take on the book's first recipe, a nod to the Istrian influences of her childhood. Minestra di Ceci is so much more than rejuvenated chickpeas. It is rich with a base of puréed vegetables and deep with the smoky feel of kielbasa and pork ribs. It went down easy, even on a summer day in Maui.
We'll be working our way through "Lidia's Italy", and through the distinct regions of my second home, in the coming weeks. I hope you join us on the journey. Now, as promised, the first step.
To serve six, you will need:
A half pound of dried chickpeas. (Soak these overnight.)
4 quarts of water
1 bay leaf
3/4 pounds of cubed potatoes
4 celery ribs, cut in to large chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut in to large chunks
3 garlic cloves
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of canned, crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 pound generously seasoned pork ribs
1/2 pound kielbasa
1/4 cup grated parmiggiano reggiano cheese
Drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them in a stockpot with the four quarts of water. Add the bay leaf and potatoes. Season with salt, to taste. Bring it to all to a boil.
While that it boiling, you will make a pestata. This is a vegetable paste that, when cooked, will become the soffritto, or base, of your soup. If you are a mom trying to slip more vegetables in to your child's meals, you will be thrilled. The pestata for this soup is made from the onion, celery, carrots and garlic cloves. Put all four ingredients in to a blender or food processor and mince until it is a consistent paste.
Find a big skillet, pour the olive oil in to it and set it over a medium-high flame. Stir frequently and cook for at least ten minutes. The water from the vegetables should be completely evaporated. Then, stir in the crushed tomatoes and reduce these down for a few minutes.
Throw the soffrito in to the boiling pot of potatoes and stir. Cover and boil. When the chickpeas have cooked for at least one hour, season the water again. Then, drop in the pork ribs. Boil for another half hour, partially covered. This will allow the soup to slowly reduce and intensify the flavors.
The last ingredient, kielbasa, should be dropped in at this point. In thirty minutes, their flavor should infuse the soup with a rich smokiness.
Now, scoop out half of the chickpeas and drop them in to your blender. Add as much of the broth as you prefer to make a thick puree and then dump it back in to the soup. Simmer five minutes more. This will add a richer texture to the already deep flavor of this soup.
It should be ready to serve. How you serve it is up to you. In Italy, we would pluck out the meat and serve it as a second course with bread and a salad. For the first course, the soup would be served alone, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and grated cheese and fresh pepper. Or you may opt, as we did, to ladle it all in to a bowl together with all of the toppings mentioned above.
This dish is slow cooking at its best. Lazy Sundays come to mind. Make sure that you have enough time to savor the process, as well as the end result.