Saturday, November 2, 2013

Alma's Cooked Water Soup or Acquacotta di Alma

Been gone a few weeks. Thanks to all of you loyal readers out there. I promise more consistent postings now that we have settled in to a groove here in New York. I've survived Mike's two week trip to Italy and my exhausting stint as a single mom while he was handling business for our new restaurant in Maui. Time to write was literally impossible to find until now. Glad to be back at it. 

In the interim, I've been mastering the art of egg poaching and seeking out recipes that allow me to flex my new skills. This is a beautiful and simple soup that helps to counter the cold New York City nights that we are trying to bear while we spend what will probably be our last late autumn here with friends and family. 

Courtesy of Lidia Bastianich, via an enigmatic Tuscan woman named Alma, I followed the recipe almost to the letter. Here is my very slightly tweaked take on their cooked water soup: 

Stem 2 lbs. of Swiss chard. Then, chop the stems in to 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside and rip the leaves coursely in to approximately one inch pieces. 

Next, roughly chop 1 onion, 2 celery stalks, 8 basil leaves and 1/3 cup parsley

Then, blend or food process until well integrated and puréed. (This is called a pestata in Italian. You are basically creating a paste and an amazing base for the soup here.) 

Alma and Lydia tell us to use 1/3 cup of olive oil for the next step, but I only used half of their recommendation. Warm the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the pestata. Stir frequently, adding a 1/2 tsp peperoncino, until it starts to get dry and sticky. Then add 1 tbsp of tomato paste, quickly stirring it on to the pestata, before adding 9 cups of water. This will be the beautiful base of your soup. 

Season the broth with salt and pepper, to taste, and raise the heat to high. Once boiling, dump all of the Swiss chard in to the pot. Cover it partially and let it roll at steady clip for about 30 mins. The greens should be soft but not wilted. Now, turn off the heat.

Lydia finishes this soup in one fell swoop but I prepared one bowl at a time, cautiously and in no hurry: Find a small sauté pan and ladle 1.5 cups of the broth in to it. Re-heat it until it is just simmering.  Then, and here is where it gets interesting, gently crack and release one egg in to the broth. Poach it at least two minutes, depending on your preference. 

While you wait for your egg, lay one slice of old bread at the bottom of a soup bowl. Then, lift the egg out of the soup with a spatula and lay it in to the bowl as well. 

Top with your cooked greens and ladle in the broth over the top. 

To finish this beautiful dish, sprinkle pecorino over the bowl and a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil. Repeat, depending on the number of your guests, and serve immediately. 


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