There’s this famous chef who is a tad portly and has been known to wear orange clogs (let’s just call him Mario). He has also been known to say “soup sucks.” And while it may be true that I have a somewhat fragile sensibility, and it may also be true that this “Let’s Just Call Him Mario” guy is most definitely one of the greatest living chefs, I have to fervently disagree with him on this point. It might actually be the one thing I could ever go croc to croc with him about.
I mean, really, what kind of culinary scrooge do you have to be to hate soup?
Soup is universal. Every culture makes it in some form or fashion.
Soup is communal. What other dish is served from a single pot around a table?
Soup is economical. You can feed a lot of people with few fresh ingredients.
Soup can be a whole meal onto itself. What other course of dining is so all-encompassing?
Soup is humble but can be a full expression of subtle (or bold) flavor.
Soup is patient, soup is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast (unless it wins a Beard Award and then watch out, it turns into a real douche), it is not proud (unless it gets a shout-out in Bon Appetit). It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (unless it’s name is Bourdain; well, not really-- I’m IN LOVE with that guy). Soup does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Not to be grandiose or anything.
I think Let’s Just Call Him Mario can stuff it with respect to this soup snobbery.
I am in love with soup and will defend its role in changing my life for the better for the rest of my days. Soup has brought a whole community of my friends together and it has provided context and meaning and a reason to get out of bed on Sunday.
That totally doesn’t suck.
And the first Sunday of soupapolooza!, just a few hours back from Italy, was made with a bunch of things smuggled back from the old country in my suitcase. Please don’t alert customs. I have a good thing going with them...
The last two times I’ve been at the checkpoint they’ve said, verbatim, “were you out of the country on business or pleasure?”
And I’ve said “pleasure”, since I have so little “business.”
They’ve then asked me what my occupation is and I say “goldsmith.”
This always elicits blinking and blank stares and dismissal without checking through my bags for ill-gotten game, which is totally cool with me.
Tuscan Bean Soup with Stelline (Pasta Fagiole)
6-8 first course servings
1 1/2 cup dried cranberry beans
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 large red onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 celery rib, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
8-10 cups of water
1 large tomato (1/2 lb), coarsely chopped
1/3 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves
14 fresh sage leaves
5 sprigs thyme
1 1/2 cups pasta stelline (star or other small pasta)
3 TBSP kosher salt, or more to taste
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Cover beans with water (2” over top of beans) in bowl and soak overnight, at least 8 hours. Drain well.
Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven over moderate heat until almost smoking. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Stir occasionally, until onion has released its water and is softened approximately 10-15 minutes, careful not to brown onion. Add water, drained beans, tomato, parsley, sage and thyme (no rosemary, thank you very much Mr.s Garfunkle and Simon) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and partially cover, stirring occasionally and adding water, if necessary, to keep beans covered, until beans are tender, 2-3 hours.
Once beans are tender, discard thyme sprigs then, using an immersion blender (or a regular blender, in batches), blend until smooth and creamy. Return soup to a boil, add pasta and salt then reduce heat to a simmer, stirring frequently (making sure pasta doesn’t clump up) until pasta is tender, about 20-30 minutes. Add pepper, taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.
While beans are cooking:
6 garlic cloves
3/4 cup pine nuts
2 cups grated reggiano parmesan
2 cups grated pecorino romano
5 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cups packed flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup + 1 TBSP finishing-quality extra virgin olive oil
Pulse garlic in a food processor until finely chopped, then add nuts, cheeses, and a large handful of the basil and parsley and black pepper. Process until chopped. Add remaining herbs, a handful at a time, until finely chopped. With motor running, add olive oil and blend until thoroughly incorporated.
ladle soup into bowl
place a healthy dollop of fresh pesto on top
drizzle with finishing quality olive oil
I was really happy to be home, and to bring a little of Italy with me. I made a caprese salad, an arugula, pecorino and mushroom salad, the soup and a dessert of olive oil gelato and rosemary olive oil cakes garnished with sea salt. I’m not sure I could have gotten it up to make a meal for myself in my jet lagged fog had there not been friends waiting; I am really, really thankful they decided to come back after such a long break on my part.
Jihad Jenni did my dishes and kept me awake until midnight with a continuous pour of prosecco and lively conversation about everything I’d missed just so I wouldn’t be wide awake at 4am.
And what was it that ran through my mind when I woke up anyway, in spite of my friend’s dutiful effort, around that magical hour of 4am?
I thought that soup never sucks when you have great friends to share it with.