November 20, 2009

Zuppa di Patate, Rucola, e Pane

I love the smell of garlic and clementines on my fingers. It permeates and lingers. It was late morning when I decided to take a break from my computer. My car, in the shop. I was working from home. Actually, I really was. I was also doing laundry and prepping for dinner. The day before I had made one final attempt to find arugula. I don't know why it was so difficult, but it was. Ultimately I ended up with a blend of arugula and spinach, a compromise.

I took a break shortly before lunch. I gave the greens a good wash, diced the potatoes and bread, prepped the garlic, extra virgin olive oil and crushed red pepper.

Everything was measured out. I'm so specific at times, but only to a point. For instance, I used only four cloves of garlic instead of the six suggested. As mentioned earlier, I couldn't find all of the arugula I needed, so I had to supplement with spinach. Then there's the matter of the cheese. Freshly grated pecorino. We only have parmesan presently.

But, I couldn't let myself get sidetracked by the details. 

Besides, I was terribly hungry. There's something about the smell of garlic that sparks my appetite. The act of chopping and measuring, sparks as well. So, needless to say, lunch came early.

When I went back up to my computer, to finish what I had started, the garlic, the clementines, they lingered. With one hand on my mouse, I kept sneaking, inhaling, the delicate perfume on my fingers.

When 5 o'clock neared I closed out of what had consumed me for the better part of the day and went down to start the soup. It's interesting, this soup. The photo in Lidia's Italian Table was beautiful. I realize that her soup was styled and in doing so, I think they may have strayed from the reality of the finished soup just a bit. Lidia's version looked dryer, in fact it looked compiled. Almost as if nothing had cooked together. A food stylist, out of desperation and exhaustion must have demanded that in order for the soup to look correct, it need not be soupy, but almost stew-like.

As I recreated Lidia's masterpiece, Zuppa di Patate, Rucola, e Pane, I frowned a bit. 'There's no way' I thought. The ratio of water to solids, it wasn't adding up, but I pressed on. I resuscitated. I wasn't about to let this defeat me.

I poured five cups of water into the pot, added the diced potatoes (3/4 lb baking potato—about two) and salted the water. As this came up to a boil I chopped the spinach and arugula into ribbons of peppery green bites.

I gleaned a teaspoonful of the potato water to assess the salt and adjusted.

When the potatoes were cooked (it took about 15 minutes) I did the unthinkable, I mashed them in the pot. This wasn't called for at all. Once mashed, I added in about 8 cups of chopped arugula and spinach and 1/2 cup of diced day old italian bread, crust removed. As this boiled, for another 10 minutes, in a small saucepan I heated the extra virgin olive oil (about 1/4 cup), garlic (about 4 cloves—minced and pulverized) and crushed red pepper (a hefty pinch or two—this soup packed some heat). This took only moments. I had pulverized the garlic quite a bit. I then pulled off the flame.

When the greens had finished properly wilting, I added in the heated olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper.

Going by the recipe, this should have been it. The finished soup. But, I had already mashed the potatoes in the pot, perhaps that's why the arugula and spinach seemed to float around like wet socks in the wash cycle. This wouldn't do at all. It didn't look at all well. Sickly, actually. Anemic. So, I did the only thing I could do to revive, resuscitate once again, I milled.

Finally, once milled, the soup resembled something worthy of heated bowl, small pasta (I added in a silly little De Cecco number called gnocchetti sardi) and our undivided attention.

The resulting soup was a pesto of sorts, thickened with potato, bread and pasta starch. Delightfully peppery from the arugula and spinach and startlingly hot from the crushed red pepper. Heat, fragrance and flavor from the garlic. It was a very nice soup. Very nice, indeed.

I ladled. We topped with parmesan. We ate.

I can't see making this soup any other way now. The milled version seemed so much more inviting to the both of us. In fact, probably the best thing I could do next go round, a bit of crispy pork, a nice bacon, perhaps some crunchy cubes of bread saturated with a nice fruity extra virgin olive oil and parmesan for garnish.

In addition to smelling, chopping, just being around food, the act of writing about it sparks the appetite even more.

I was once told by the president of marketing for the company I work for, my boss, that parenthetical text denoted something negative. I certainly hope not, for I have used it quite a bit here today. I'd like to think of it as a nestled thought.


  1. Pesto soup! Perfect. I don't really remember the last time I had pesto--but it has been a long, long time. So many of your posts make me want to get back to it. This one included.

  2. retrospect I should have added some mashed pine nuts to the soup when I realized it was turning out pesto-ish. Pine nuts are so wonderful. I hope you're able to bring pesto to your table soon! :)

  3. I think of them as nestled thoughts too.

    Your post is making me very hungry. It is 11:31am and I have yet to eat breakfast! I think I'll try your soup, with your bacon and parmesan crouton additions, soon, very soon, but breakfast will have to be something easier and in the next 5 minutes : )

  4. denise...I'm always on the verge of being very hungry. :)


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