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Monday, June 30, 2014

poverty soup


Poverty Soup: Chap. 2

Filed in The Gentrys Pantry by  on March 13, 2014 • 0 Comments
Poverty Soup: Chap 2
Poverty Soup: Chap 2
The immigrants from Southern Italy that came to America in the early years of the XX Century came here fleeing poverty.  Not for them the traditional middle-class midday meal ofprimo, segundo, and a salad.  No, those laborers and small holders were left destitute by the earthquakes of 19051908 and 1915.  They considered themselves lucky if they could manage a bowl of soup and a serving of polenta.  Fortunately for them that bowl of soup was easy to make, very filling and nutritious.  It could keep a man or a woman working hard through the rest of the long day in the field or hunched over a workbench until even the candlelight wasn’t enough to see by.  So, what are the principals?

Poverty Soup 2:  Basics

Most stews and soups in Italy, whether North or South, begin with what is known as asoffritto, the Italian version of the French mirepoix.  Unlike the French version, asoffritto begins with olive oil, poured into a heated pan and allowed to warm until fragrant.  Into this are poured a selections of mixed vegetables that will vary by the desired intent but most often consist of finely minced onion, carrot and celery (or parsley) in the proportions of 4:2:1.  This can be done by volume but weighing the ingredients is more accurate.  I want to emphasize that the ingredients should be very finely minced, not just chopped.  Unless you are a very patient cook doing this in a blender or food processor is the easiest route but of course if you had either a blender or a food processor you couldn’t claim to be in poverty, could you?  There isn’t any order to putting them in the pot.  Just heat the oil and toss in the vegetables.  The secret is in letting them brown to the degree the dish requires. This is only learned by experience and practice.  Once you have the soffritto cooked pour in water.  If you have a stock, it’s even better but we’re assuming a serious state of poverty here and a stock is out of the question.

Poverty Soup 2:  The Heart of the Issue

Minestrone gets it’s nutritional benefit from the vast array of vegetables put in it, the protein derived from beans (usually white or red) and the Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top.  For centuries Parmesan or Romano cheese provided the bulk the protein intake of Italy’s poor.  And for most of those centuries, that meant the bulk of Italy.  So, what should go in?   What’s in the garden?  Cabbage will be a main ingredient though if you live in a hot climate Swiss Chard is less prone to bolt.  Chopped tomatoes should be a matter of course, at least since they were introduced from the Americas.  Naturally there will be more onions than just the ones in the soffritto.  Being neither in poverty nor a purest, I use canned dried beans.  The original would not have had such a luxury but naturally they would be pre-cooked before going into the soup.  But they should be there.  Yes, I know that others leave them out of the recipe but for nutrition’s sake, the vegetable protein is what makes this version nutritious rather than just filling.  Carrots?  If you’ve got them.  A cup or two of either small pasta likestellini or rice helps fill the family.  My recommendation is to go with the whole grain version or brown rice because I’m a firm believer in a low glycemic index diet but that’s up to you.  Leeks are popular.  Spinach is big in my family.  Root tops like beet or turnip add B complex vitamins and if you shred a turnip and toss it in, it will make a pleasant spiciness many enjoy.  Now turn down the heat and let it simmer–preferably all morning or, better yet, on the simmer plate on the back of the stove over night.  When all the flavors blend together this soup for the poor is a dish for a king.

Poverty Soup:  Serving

In today’s well-fed world our poverty minestrone ceases to be a full meal and becomes theprimo, the first course.  Less fattening and more nutritious than a big plate of pasta, it’s just as traditional.  It’s also better when the weather turns cold.  So put the pot on the table while the roast chicken rests prior to carving and let everyone ladle themselves a big bowl.  But don’t forget the fresh grated Parmesan!  Combining the animal and vegetable proteins with all the various vitamins from the vegetables is what makes this poverty soup a full meal–even if it’s only the first course.  Mangia!

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