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.
What do you do with day-old bread? Do you throw it away (I hope not), or perhaps freeze it? Maybe pulse it into breadcrumbs, or fry into fluffy French toast? Do you make croutons for soups and salads? I do all these things, but perhaps my favourite way to use stale bread is in Tuscan bread salad, or panzanella.
I suspect that each Italian household has a favourite way of making this salad. Rather than a recipe, then, the process of making panzanella follows a few simple rules. The most important thing for the success of panzanella is, first of all, the type of bread. The best for the scope would be unsalted Tuscan bread, as it holds its shape wonderfully after soaking, becoming wet but not soggy; though any good sourdough would do just fine.
To soak the bread, good wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil are required – the oil for flavour and the vinegar to add a pleasant acidic note to the salad. Finally, the vegetables. In origin, before the advent of tomatoes, these only counted sliced onion, cucumber, torn basil, and other herbs such as wild rocket and purslane (as reported by Emiko). Tomatoes made their way into this salad in recent times only, though quickly gaining the role of key ingredient.
There is a deep need for rest in these days. Rest from work, duties, manners, social constraints, voices, noises, people, crowds, rush hours, public transports, high streets. There is a deep need for empty, hilly streets at dusk, bird noises, a little apartment that smells of cinnamon and baking bread, a couch, some lit candles in every room and nothing else. A deep need for neutrality: no sound, no color. A deep need for inner peace and inner brightness when everything gets too dark too early.
I find myself longing for solitude, and pure emptiness. For much that I got to know and yes, to love this city, sometimes I ache, I feel overwhelmed, I find myself panting, reaching for fresh air and hidden corners. I try to close my eyes and blank my mind and I can see the task getting harder and harder. Am I alone in this? Am I the strange one, the outsider?
I find relief in my empty kitchen, in an empty afternoon when nobody is home and I can free myself completely. The simple gestures of gathering bowls and measuring cups, ingredients and notes, aligning them on the table, turning on the oven solace my bewildered mind. I think, not free from guilt, that I could do something else instead, perhaps something more suitable to my age or my current location. But I chase these thoughts as I focus on measuring the ingredients, on following cooking instructions. My mind blanks as I pursue my goal of simply baking something, anything, as long as it fills my mind with silence and keeps my hands busy.
A coconut loaf has been in my plans for months and I simply felt its moment had come. Its purity, its triune coconut-y essence, its perfect synthesis of flavors, its light colored nature donated comfort and warmth to a lonely, happily lonely, or w happily-in-two-maximum afternoon, a time when everybody writes, or naps, or reads and no small talk breaks this peace.