In these quiet days after Christmas and New Year, after the excitement of the holidays has subdued, after the feasts and the family, the chatter and the clinking of chalices, I revert to soup – my safe harbour, my antidote against excess. Soup seems like a good metaphor for these first days of 2017: unshouty, unshowy, soothing. The same could be said for my kitchen windows, which, like my thoughts, have often been fogged, steamy, and heavy with condensation. Perhaps because of this, soup is all I want to eat. And, consequently, it’s all I want to talk about. So there, let’s talk about it.
We make and enjoy plenty of humble soups in our home. Soups like this one. With legumes and greens, sometimes with grains, sometimes tomato-based, others broth-based, almost never cream-based. The best part about it has to be the fact you can throw in whatever greens the market has to offer – or whatever legumes you have in your pantry – and it will turn out to be a very good soup. This one is just a pretty successful version.
The vegetable component is a leaf called minestra nera
, a green belonging to the brassica family, in the same way turnip tops do, and originally from Campania, but kale, cavolo nero, spinach or even chard would go well in its place. Dry chickpeas work better here than canned, as the latter would somehow compromise the texture of the soup, which is much more enjoyable when al dente
. Finally, some pasta or couscous or other grains make a welcome but optional addition while thickening the broth at the same time. Copious amounts of grated Pecorino cheese will make this out of this world, and a spiral of good olive oil to finish is like cherry on cake. Have lots of bread handy, for you’ll need it.
On our first year in London, we tried to grow tomatoes. We had just moved from Italy in early March, and settled into our one bedroom apartment with no balcony or yard but lots of natural light and a big table by April. Short after our move, Jesse declared one night at dinner that no, we didn’t have to give up our dream of a vegetable patch, and that yes, we could make it work just as well indoor. There was certainly no lack of light for photosynthesis! He then bought some heirloom seeds from a company in the US, vases at the local hardware store, and he treated our seeds to organic dirt and compost. We placed some of the vases with dirt and seeds by the window sill, and some on the portion of the table we didn’t use for our meals and served as a desk. It was sacrificed in the name of tomatoes.