Sunday, November 16, 2008

Food cultures of Italy

In college, I spent a semester in Italy.  Besides the weekend travel, the dozens of scarves I was able to buy for 3 euros each, and the copious amounts of pasta I consumed, the very best thing about my time there was going to class.

I should clarify.  I didn't love going to class in the general sense.  I loved going to my favorite class -- food cultures of Italy.  We did olive oil tastings, visited a chocolate factory, and celebrated the release of vino novella.  It was as amazing as it sounds.  One of the best days of the entire semester was when we went to a Tuscan farmhouse and got to cook with a few wonderful old Italian women. We made three kinds of brushetta, soup, hand-rolled pasta, meat sauce, and chocolate cake.  

They sent us home with all the recipes, and the soup we made that afternoon is one of my absolute favorite things to make.  Like so many great Italian dishes, it's casual and forgiving, and very adaptable. 

I wrote out what I used today in the soup, but you can make this a dozen different ways. Use whatever beans, greens, and starches you have on hand.  I've made this with white beans, spinach, beet greens, pasta, and rice, and it always come out beautifully.  

Italian vegetable soup

You will need: 

1 medium yellow onion
2 large cloves garlic
1 very large carrot, or three regular sized carrots
3 potatoes, peeled
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can pink beans
1 teaspoon dried basil and oregano
2 cups chopped cabbage

Chop your onion and garlic.  Add to a large soup pot with a splash of olive oil.  Add a sprinkle of salt and let the onions sweat. Add peeled rounds of carrot, cut about 1/4 inch thick.  Add in bite sized chunks of potato, and stir everything around in the oil to coat.  Fill pot with enough water to just cover everything.  

When carrots and potatoes have started to soften, add in tomatoes with all the juice, the beans, and the herbs.  Stir in the cabbage in handfuls. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a bit of parmesan if you have it (the rind works particularly well!).  

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