Cookbook watch: 'Zuppe' from the American Academy in Rome
I can still taste the soup a Roman friend made for me 20 years ago. She'd just been up in the mountains in Umbria, to the 5th century town of Norcia, and brought back tiny Castelluccio di Norcia lentils and slender wild boar sausages. Norcia is famous for its salumi, particularly wild boar prosciutto and sausages.
She cooked up the lentils with a sofrito of vegetables, and sliced in some sausage. Then she set the table with wide, shallow soup bowls, laid a slice of bread in the bottom of each, broke an egg over the top and ladled the soup over. She poured a thread of new olive oil over and handed us each a big silver soup spoon.
On that bitter cold day: heaven.
I was reminded of that soup when I picked up a copy of the new cookbook "Zuppe" from Mona Talbott, head of the kitchen at the American Academy in Rome and executive chef of the Rome Sustainable Food Project. This small, lovely book includes 50 soup recipes, enough to keep you cooking for a good long while. They're divided up seasonally, so right now (spring), I'm looking at chickpea, cabbage and artichoke soup or risi e bisi, the famous Venetian rice and pea soup. But considering the fava beans waiting to be harvested in the garden, I'm going with fava bean, English pea and chicken meatball soup. I've also got nettles, so maybe her nettle and potato soup.
She’s also got a spring lentil soup, this one with carrots, a little white wine, onion, garlic, smoked paprika and toasted ground fennel seeds punched up with lemon and chili pepper flakes. I can see that one in my future too.
Nettle and Potato Soup
"Nettles have a unique deep mineral flavor and are a particular favorite of our cooks and interns. Those interns who work through the spring are often sent out to the Academy gardens, gloves on hands, to forage for stinging nettles that grow at the edges of the laurel hedges and at the base of the ancient Roman walls. It is important to pick young nettles before they begin to flower; after the bud forms, the texture becomes grainy and unpleasant."
Serves 4 to 6:
1 1/4 pounds nettles
1 1/2 pounds potatoes
6 tablespoons olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil
Wash and pick over the nettles.
Peel and cut the potatoes into small dice, then store in cold water until you are ready. Peel and cut the onions into small dice.
Sweat the onions in 1/4 cup olive oil in a 6-quart stockpot over medium heat until tender. Add the diced potatoes and cook for another two or three minutes and then add 2 quarts water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes.
Sweat the nettles in 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan until they collapse (approximately two to three minutes). Once the nettles are cool enough to handle, roughly chop them.
Combine the nettles and potatoes. Puree the soup using an immersion blender or a standing blender.
Add the juice of one lemon. Taste and re-season with salt if necessary.
Serve the soup with extra virgin olive oil and black pepper.
-- S. Irene Virbila
Photo: "Zuppe" cover. Credit: Annie Schlechter for The Little Bookroom