Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Zuppa di Broccoli e Patate
Marcella Hazan was the queen of Italian cooking and in memoriam (she died this week at 89) many are honoring her with cooking from her cookbooks books and with mention of their favorite recipes from her cookbooks. Many people go back to the '70s with Marcella, but I only found her soon after I really started cooking in the '90s. I worked backward, first acquiring Marcella Cucina in the remainder room in a cavernous bookstore in Vero Beach, Florida, and only later getting a used copy of The Classic Italian Cookbook at Second Story Books. It is this book that caused people to liken her to the Italian Julia Child. I have to admit I've never made her famous tomato, onion, butter sauce because a stick of butter is not a good thing for me, but have been hearing about many people substituting olive oil so I might try that soon. But, I am a great fan of many other of her fine recipes.
One that I love is her pesto in which you don't add Parmesan or Pecorino, but instead use goat cheese (Pesto al Caprino). It produces a wonderful, creamy sauce that coats the pasta in a completely different way and instead of the saltiness of the Parmigiano, adds a smoother, lighter yet tangy touch. It's such a small change, yet it yields a subtle but appealing difference to a common dish.
Another favorite is a rustic soup, Zuppa di Broccoli e Patate, the origins of which were simply the avoidance of waste. This soup uses broccoli florets, which Marcella explains, her husband and collaborator, Victor, didn't enjoy eating plain. He much preferred the stalks, considering the florets "an accident of nature."
This is the perfect time of year to make this soup, at least in the mid-Atlantic, as for a brief time, we have both basil and broccoli growing at the same time. Later on, if hothouse basil is not available, a small swirl of pesto sauce actually works quite well.
I've adapted this recipe a bit over the years, in part to streamline and in part to reduce butter. From what I've read of her nature, these changes would probably cause Marcella to glare at me if she were here, so if you are interested in the original version, it is in her book Marcella Cucina.
Broccoli and Potato Soup (Zuppa di Broccoli e Patate)
(adapted from Marcella Hazan in Marcella Cucina)
serves about 4 as meal or 6 or more as a soup course
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
pinch of salt
a few grinds of black pepper
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
About 2 pounds of broccoli, from which you'll use just the florets. If I find broccoli crowns without much stalk, I use about a pound and a quarter.
2 medium sized russet potatoes or if using the smaller Yukons instead, use 3 - 4, depending on size, peeled and cut into a small dice.
1 quart low sodium or homemade chicken or vegetable broth (for a packaged vegetable broth, I've been liking Imagine's "No-Chicken").
1 tablespoon of butter
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
a handful of basil leaves gently torn into small pieces (can use a tablespoon or two of pesto sauce instead)
1. Heat a Dutch oven or small soup pot over medium heat and when heated up add the olive oil and onion slices. Sprinkle a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of black pepper over top. After a few minutes, mix, cover and lower heat to medium low, checking from time to time that the onions are softening and and only slightly coloring, but not burning or crisping.
2. While the onions are cooking, break the broccoli tops apart into smaller florets, reserving the stalks for another use.
3. Once the onions are softened and lightly browned, add the garlic and let cook for a few minutes.
4. Add in the broccoli florets and another pinch of salt and grind of pepper. Let them cook for a few minutes tossing them in with the onions.
5. Add in the potato and toss again. Add the broth and bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Let the soup cook at a high simmer until the potatoes soften enough to crush if gently pressed against the side of the pot with the back of the spoon. Marcella does not tell us how long this step will take, as all potatoes, stoves, dices, etc. are different, but I've found that it can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes for the potatoes to get to that perfect state of creaminess.
6. Crush about 75 percent of the potatoes gently against the side of the pot to break them up. Mix well. If the soup is too thick, add a little more broth or water. It should be, as Marcella says "loosely creamy, runny, rather than thick."
7. Take off the heat and swirl in the butter and cheese and taste for salt and pepper. Add more to your taste. Sprinkle the basil on top and serve.