By Barbara Beltrami
It had been one of those days from hell — blustery, cold and wet. Battling the mall crowds had left me tired and cranky and both my stomach and I were grumbly. My feet hurt, my back ached and my head throbbed from the unavoidable, ubiquitous and ambient music that blared with a rock beat insistence. All I could think of was getting home, changing into my old jeans, a baggy sweater and fuzzy slippers and grabbing some crackers to assuage my hunger pangs before I collapsed.
But as I came in the door and dropped my shopping bags, an aroma redolent with veggies, onions and herbs greeted me. There simmering on the stove was the pot of soup I had made the day before, removed from the fridge by an elf (bless his husbandly heart) and set to simmer in anticipation of my return from my ill-advised expedition.
It was sipping (read slurping) that steaming bowl of soup that revived me and reassured me that there were still some things that hadn’t been commercialized and that homemade soup was one of them! I sat back, smiled contentedly and reflected on what a nice productive day I’d had and all the bargains I’d found on things I didn’t need. Soup has a way of doing that.
In Italian “ribollita” means reheated. (And doesn’t just about any respectable soup taste better the next day?) This one is chock full of kale, other veggies and beans and is a tribute to its name.
YIELD: Serves 6 to 8
Two 28-ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
8 cups chopped, well-washed trimmed lacinato kale*
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 ounces well-trimmed pancetta, julienned†
2 garlic cloves, minced
One 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes with their juice
4 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves or 2 teaspoons dried
8 cups broth
4 cups cubed crusty leftover bread
salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
DIRECTIONS: In a food processor, puree half the beans. Cover and set aside. In a large pot, bring 2 inches water to a boil. Arrange kale on a steamer rack; place in pot and cover with tight-fitting lid. Steam for 3 to 5 minutes, until almost tender. Place a pot or large saucepan (at least 6½ quarts) over medium heat, add olive oil and heat 45 seconds. Add onions, pancetta and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, one to two minutes, until onions are opaque. Stir in tomatoes with their juice, celery, carrots and sage. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes, until the vegetables are very tender.
Add the pureed and whole beans, broth, kale to the tomato mixture. Bring the liquid to a boil; reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, about half an hour, until beans and kale are very tender and soup is thickened. Add bread cubes and cook 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, if desired. Cool to room temperature; cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Half an hour before serving, reheat the soup over low heat to a gentle boil; stir frequently. Ladle into bowls and drizzle about half a tablespoon olive oil over each one
*Lacinato kale, a long-leafed dark green variety that resembles Romaine lettuce is preferable and available in most specialty markets, but the more familiar regular kale is okay if you can’t find it.
†Pancetta is Italian bacon available in most supermarket deli departments and certainly in Italian delis.
Cream of Tomato Soup
Warning: You’ll never be happy with the canned version once you’ve tasted this. And do I even need to say how great it is with a grilled cheese sandwich?
YIELD: Serves 4 to 6
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped onion
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups water
½ bay leaf
1½ teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste
DIRECTIONS: In a large heavy pot or saucepan, melt the butter, then add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened but not browned. Add flour and continue to stir for another minute or two. Slowly add milk, bay leaf and sugar; continue to stir until slightly thickened. Stir the baking soda into the tomatoes, then add the tomatoes to the milk mixture and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until heated through. Remove bay leaf and discard. Let cool about 15 to 20 minutes; puree in batches in food processor. Add seasonings and serve immediately or refrigerate and reheat before serving.
Lentil and Leek Soup
This hearty soup gets its zing from the addition of just a little vinegar, which acts as a flavor enhancer.
YIELD: Serves 6 to 8
1 pound dried lentils, rinsed, drained and picked over
2½ quarts broth
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 large rib celery, diced
3 medium leeks, thoroughly washed and sliced
1 bay leaf
1½ cups chopped tomatoes
1 cup juice from tomatoes
2 to 3 tablespoons wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 scallions, washed and thinly sliced
DIRECTIONS: Place lentils, broth, vegetables and bay leaf in a large nonreactive pot.Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are tender. Add tomatoes, juice and, if soup seems too thick, water as needed. Cook 10 minutes. Add vinegar and oil. Stir; cook over low flame 5 minutes more. Remove bay leaf and discard. Adjust seasoning. Garnish with scallions.