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Italian Wedding Soup with Puntarelle

Italian Wedding Soup with Puntarelle


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Reserve the white puntarelle stalks for another use—they’re great in a crunchy salad.

Ingredients

  • 1 head of puntarelle, trimmed, outer leaves removed
  • ⅓ cup fine fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 medium leeks, white and pale-green parts only, finely chopped, divided
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped, divided
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Shaved Pecorino (for serving)

Recipe Preparation

  • Tear dark leafy parts of puntarelle into 2” pieces; set aside. You’ll be left with long white stalks and the core of the puntarelle, which is layered similar to a fennel bulb. Thinly slice core lengthwise (smaller pieces will break away) and set aside.

  • Using your hands, mix egg, pork, breadcrumbs, parsley, 1 leek, and 2 garlic cloves in a medium bowl until well combined; season with salt and pepper. Gently roll heaping teaspoonfuls of mixture into balls, transferring to rimmed baking sheets as you go (you should have about 40 meatballs).

  • Heat ¼ cup oil in a large heavy pot over medium–high. Cook meatballs, turning often to help maintain their round shape, until browned all over, 5–7 minutes. Add remaining leek and 2 garlic cloves to pot and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned and softened, about 5 minutes.

  • Add all but a small handful of reserved sliced puntarelle core to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add wine and simmer until liquid is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Add all but a small handful of puntarelle leaves to pot. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until puntarelle is cooked through and flavors have melded, 25–30 minutes.

  • Toss remaining puntarelle core and greens in a small bowl with lemon juice and remaining 1 Tbsp. oil; season with salt and pepper.

  • Divide soup among bowls and top with dressed puntarelle and Pecorino.

  • Do Ahead: Soup (without dressed puntarelle and Pecorino) can be made 1 day ahead. Dress puntarelle and top soup just before serving.

,Photos by Christopher TestaniReviews Section

Wedding soup is a marriage made in heaven

LOWELLVILLE, Ohio — Nancy Grapevine and her sister, Marilee Pilkington, have been making their mother’s wedding soup for longer than they can remember. Like any self-respecting Italian cooks, they think it’s the best. Award-winning, even, which is why on a recent Saturday, they braved a wicked winter blast that dumped several inches of snow on this tiny village along the Mahoning River to enter a wedding soup cook-off.

The starter that’s a staple at so many red sauce Italian-American restaurants is the highlight of a “Bigga Day” party that kicks off the Mt. Carmel Society’s annual Italian festival each July. So when members of the Italian men’s club were trying to come up with a new fundraiser last October, they decided: why not host a contest to determine who does it the best?

More than a third of the town’s population traces its roots to the Mezzogiorno region of southern Italy. Asking people to pit their families’ recipes against one another, said club president Dave Gagliano, who lives just over the Pennsylvania border in Hillsville, Lawrence County, would keep the tradition of Italian foods going.

That, “and we knew it would be a hit” for the society founded in 1895 by Pietro Pirone as a homeless shelter for Italian immigrants. Especially since there was just one rule: Contestants each had to bring at least three gallons of soup to the club for the blind tasting.

All 20 spots were snapped up within three days, and the club also sold all 200 of its $20 tickets to the event, which included pizza, hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction in addition to a tasting spoon and ballot.

Ms. Grapevine and her sister carried in five gallons of the soup recipe their mother, Mary Perry, used to feed to New Castle fireworks master Louis Zambelli and his workers a half-century ago. They spent the entire day simmering and straining the broth, to which they added chopped chicken, miniature beef meatballs, escarole and the tiny homemade dough balls their mom always referred to as “hickies.”

What makes the soup so incredibly delicious, said Ms. Grapevine, is that they follow their mom’s golden rule of never putting garlic in the meatballs, and cooking them just so.

“You want your teeth just to sink into them,” she said.

The soup was good enough for the sisters to be voted runners-up in the popular vote. But it was Ed Snitzer, a plumbing contractor who also runs an Italian food trailer called Jaam Concession, who took home the judges’ trophy along with $500.

The Youngstown, Ohio native attributed his win to his soup’s quarter-inch-square croutons, which are handmade with grated pecorino. “Pasta?” he said when asked about his competitors’ versions. “True Italian wedding soup doesn’t have it!”

A peasant dish born of necessity

Pittsburgh likes to call claim to wedding soup because of the many generations of Italians who’ve made it a must-have dish at restaurants as diverse as Big Jim’s in lower Greenfield, Delallo’s Fort Couch Cafe in Bethel Park. La Gondola Pizzeria in Market Square and Eat’n Park. The truth is, the humble concoction of broth with greens and meatballs is equally popular in the parts of Ohio with large Italian populations, such as Youngstown and Cleveland.

It’s thought to have originated in Naples in the 15th century, before the tomato was introduced into Italian cuisine, though some argue it was Spanish cooks who brought a similar stew called olla podrida there a century earlier from Toledo and other parts of central Spain.

In Italy, says food historian and Italian food authority Francine Segan, the soup is traditionally eaten at Christmas and Easter because it’s hearty and makes an easy extra course. Where you won’t find it is at weddings. That’s because its original name in Italian, minestra maritata, doesn’t have anything to do with a bride or groom. It actually translates to “married soup” or “wedded soup.” The green vegetables and meat “si sposa bene” — they go really well together.

While today the dish is typically made with escarole or swiss chard, in olden days it probably featured puntarelle, a type of Catalonian chicory, said Ms. Segan borage leaves also would have been essential in the greens mix. There definitely would have been the tiny meatballs made from different cuts of meat that are so common in Italy, and perhaps also sausage and the chicken that would have cooked off the bone while making the slow-simmered broth.

And it almost always had tiny dumpling-like homemade pasta called Cazzetti d’angelo, which roughly translates to the private parts of male angels.

Because it was a peasant food created from scraps and leftovers, it’s almost impossible to find two recipes that are alike, said Viviana Altieri, founder and executive director of Istituto Mondo Italiano in Regent Square. That’s especially true if you’re comparing American versions to those in Italy Italians grow other types of leafy vegetables and have cuts of meat that aren’t available in the U.S.

In a typical red sauce restaurant here in the U.S., she says, you would normally see it with tiny meatballs floating in a bowl surrounded by acini di pepe pasta. Back home in Italy, “you would make the broth with small pork spare ribs, beef shank, at times little pieces of prosciutto.”

Italian chef Lidia Bastianich in “Lidia’s Mastering The Art of Italian Cuisine” crafts meatballs from sweet Italian sausage, while Giada Laurentiis opts for a mixture of pork and beef. Matty Matheson, star of Viceland’s “It’s Suppertime!” bucks tradition completely by eschewing greens and adding golf-sized meatballs to the soup. He also trades the commonplace orzo, pastina or acini di pepe for a savory “lace” made by whisking a mixture of egg, Romano cheese and fresh bread crumbs into the hot broth.

At Big Jim’s, the preferred green is escarole, and the popular homemade soup includes chunks of chicken along with beef meatballs and sliced carrot — an addition that would surely drive Ms. Grapevine mad.

While the Lowellville native seasons the broth with the veggie, it’s always strained out before adding the greens and pasta. “There is no orange in the Italian flag,” she said.

A perfect assimilation of flavors and textures

Wedding soup is a forgiving soup in that any combination of meats and vegetables creates a warm bowl of Italian comfort. But there are some rules, says chef Michael Alberini, who owns an upscale Italian restaurant in Youngstown and helped judge Mt. Carmel Society’s cook-off.

Today’s home cook might not have the time or patience to make the old-style wedding soup he grew up with, and which took all day to cook using a variety of meats, homemade broth, pastina and a garden of vegetables including escarole. But with many quality boxed broths available on store shelves, even quick versions can create beautiful flavors and elicit joy, he says, if you follow four simple tips.

For starters, go easy on the salt. This is especially true if you’re using a boxed broth instead of making it from scratch. Don’t blindly add it without first tasting, even if the recipe calls for it.

Be sure to skim the fat off the soup before you serve it. What makes wedding soup taste so rich is the oil content from all the proteins simmering over a long period of time. If you don’t skim it off as it rises to the top, it will act as a barrier to the wonderful extracted flavors you’ve been cooking all day. “If you don’t get rid of it, it really blocks the flavor profile,” he says.

Don’t go crazy with the seasonings. Spicy meatballs will overpower the nuanced flavor of the soup. It’s the broth that should be enhancing the meatballs, not visa versa.

Take it slow. As Americans, we’re used to instant gratification, says Mr. Alberini. So we tend to use higher heat when cooking to rush the process. But that disallows the proteins in wedding soup to break down into a tender product. And the last thing you want when you’re eating soup is to have to work through a chewy piece of chicken or a dry meatball.

“You can’t rush the flavor of love,” he says.

And if you don’t cook? No worries. General Mills, makers of Progresso’s line of premium soups, has a winner with its canned wedding soup in Western Pennsylvania. Exact sales are proprietary, of course, “but I can confirm that people in Pittsburgh are definitely eating more of Progresso’s Italian Wedding Soup than people in other parts of the country,” spokesman Mike Siemienas wrote in an email. He add, “There is no doubt that people in Pittsburgh love it .”

Gretchen McKay: [email protected], 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

Italian Wedding Soup

Feel free to substitute or your favorite green for the escarole in this recipe.

For the meatballs

½ pound beef, ¼ pound each ground veal and pork,

2 tablespoons fresh parsley

¼ cup grated Romano cheese

¼ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon pepper

1 egg, slightly beaten

2 slices white bread soaked in about ¼ cup milk

For the broth

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 large carrots, diced

12 cups high-quality chicken broth (do not use low-sodium)

½ head escarole, shredded or chopped

2 cups shredded, roasted chicken

1 cup pastina or acini di pepe,, cooked according to package instructions

Parmesan cheese, for serving

Make meatballs. Place all ingredients except bread in a large bowl. Squeeze milk from bread and break apart. Add to the bowl and mix until ingredients are thoroughly combined. Form into grape-sized meatballs, and set aside while you make broth.

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add the chicken broth, escarole and bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper.

When the soup comes to a boil, add the prepared meatballs and chicken. Lower to a simmer and cook with the lid on for 30 minutes.Taste for seasoning and adjust, then cooked pasta and cook just until heated through..

Remove and discard the bay leaf before serving. Serve hot with Parmesan cheese at the table.


Where Did Italian Wedding Soup Originate?

The term “wedding” soup comes from the Italian minestra maritata, “married soup”, referring to the flavor produced by the “marriage” or perfect blending of greens, broth and meat.

This soup enjoys a long, rich heritage, though very different from the Italian Wedding Soup we know today. Its origin isn’t clear but it’s thought to date back to ancient Rome and then made its way to Toledo Spain, a gorgeous city we visited last Summer (image below). The soup’s Spanish ancestor was a heavier one, incorporating a variety of meats that were slow-simmered with vegetables and without the addition of pasta (an expensive commodity at that time).

From Spain the soup was introduced to Naples, Italy (second image below) where they too used any combination of meats such as beef, pork, ribs, sausages and ham hocks to create a rich meat broth The Neapolitans made it their own with the addition of ancient greens like torzella, escarole, puntarelle, chicory and savoy cabbage. Just as it was in Spain, the minestra maritata was a peasant soup using whatever leftover meats and wild greens they had on hand.

The soup eventually made its way from Naples to America via Italian immigrants who replaced the long-simmered cuts of meat with meatballs and used onions, generally one type of leafy green vegetable and added pasta. And it came to be called “Italian Wedding Soup.”

The earliest known reference to “wedding soup” in American print is an article in the Los Angeles Times from 1925 written by Joseph Musso of Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, The Musso & Frank Grill, wherein he described the process of making Wedding Soup. It has since remained perhaps the most iconic Italian-American soup and can be found in nearly every Italian restaurant across the nation.

This soup’s Italian and Spanish ancestors used the process of low- and slow-simmering meats to achieve a great broth as the base of their soups. In this Italian-American version of using meatballs that step isn’t possible. You would have to make a separate batch of broth using whole bone-in chicken and vegetables. And using high quality broth is really the key to a great Italian Wedding Soup.

I definitely don’t always have several hours to make my own chicken broth every time I need it as the base for a soup. And one of things I love about Italian Wedding Soup, besides its exquisite flavor, is how otherwise quick and easy it is to make. So for this special soup I’m enlisting the help of my favorite broth from Aneto.

Aneto is the most unique broth manufacturer in the world because they make broth the way you make it at home: Using fresh vegetables, whole chicken – nothing else – and then slow-simmering it for hours for maximum flavor and nutrition.

Aneto broths are available on Amazon and in stores across the United States. Click here for a store locator.


5 December Dishes to Take Into 2016

These were the 5 dishes you loved the most in December.


Credit: Christopher Testani

1. Beef Stroganoff
A whole tenderloin will weigh around three pounds, and you can simply eyeball the weight called for here. Less beef? Bulk it up with more mushrooms, or cut the entire recipe in half. Get the recipe.

2. Egg-in-a-Hole Sandwich with Bacon and Cheddar
Warning: A fork and knife (or a bib, at the very least) may be required to tackle this sandwich. Get the recipe.


Credit: Christopher Testani

3. Italian Wedding Soup with Puntarelle
Reserve the white puntarelle stalks for another use--they're great in a crunchy salad. Get the recipe.

4. BA's Best Hot Chocolate
If you're feeling really decadent and fancy (as you should), add a splash of half-and-half or heavy cream just before serving. This is part of BA's Best, a collection of our essential recipes. Get the recipe.

5. Firehouse Chicken
Two chicken halves won't fit in a standard 10-inch cast-iron, so this recipe calls for both a pan and a baking sheet. If you have a 14-inch pan, you can go straight from stovetop to oven. Get the recipe.


Minestra maritata (The Original Italian “Wedding Soup”)

“Wedding soup” is a popular Italian-American dish made with escarole and tiny meatballs simmered in chicken broth and adorned with small pasta, typically of the tiny acini di pepe (or “peppercorn”) type. It is so popular, in fact, that it has been marketed as a canned soup by Progresso under the funny name “Chickarina Soup“. Italian-Americans of a certain age will doubtlessly remember this jingle:

Chick chick chickarina soup!
Chick chick chickarina soup!
With noodles so delicious
And meatballs so nutritious
Mmmm boy, it’s good!

Well, the ancestor of this familiar, homey Italian-American classic, the original Italian Wedding Soup, is an ancient Neapolitan soup called minestra maritata, which actually means “married soup”, not wedding soup, and refers to the ‘marriage’ of meats and green leafy vegetables that comprise its main ingredients. Some say the recipe goes all the way back to ancient Roman times and was made from various leftover scraps of cured and fresh meats (traditionally pork) and a mixture of leafy greens that could be bought in the market or scavenged from the countryside. Minestra maritata is cheap but tasty and very filling, a perfect example of la cucina povera, the cooking of the poor, the kind of stick-to-the-ribs eating that fueled hard-working, hard-scrabble contadini (farmers) and operai (workers) back in the day. It’s the kind of thing that was once looked down on by urban middle and upper class Italians but has lately become very chic, both in Italy and all over the world.

For me the definitive recipe for minestra maritata can be found in the cookbook La cucina napoletana by Jeanne Caròla Francesconi, the doyenne of Neapolitan cookery. The only problem in trying to replicate her recipe outside Italy (or, for that matter, outside Campania) is that it calls for a good number of typical local meats and vegetables well-nigh impossible to find elsewhere, like broccoli di foglia (‘leaf broccoli’), torzella, another kind of local leafy cruciferous vegetable, or scarolella, a local ‘wild’ escarole. And some of the meats, like lardo, can be found but only in the best stocked Italian delis, at a steep price. So I’ve tried to ‘translate’ the original Italian Wedding Soup recipe by substituting reasonably priced ingredients that should be fairly easy to find in a well-stocked in US supermarket and—I hope—elsewhere. And feel free to experiment with ingredients other than the ones I’ve suggested here this is a poor person’s dish, so if you use what you can find locally, you will simply be carrying on an old tradition.

Italian Wedding Soup is very simple and basic, but it takes a bit of time to make, in particular the initial simmering of the meat, which needs a good 2-1/2 or 3 hours. But the simmering doesn’t require much attention and the dish itself can easily be made ahead of time. Or you can start and stop at various stages as your schedule allows.

Ingredients

Serves a crowd (at least 4-6 people)

  • 750g (1-1/2 lbs) of pork ribs
  • 350g (3/4 lb) salt pork (or, if you can find it, lardo)
  • 3-4 large mild Italian sausages (about 500g/1 lb.)
  • 1 large salami
  • Salt and pepper
  • Aromatics to flavor the broth (see Notes)
  • Unsmoked pork rind (optional)
  • A prosciutto bone (optional)
  • 1 head of escarole. trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 head of chicory, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 small head of green cabbage, trimmed and sliced thin
  • 1 bunch of broccoli rabe, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 150g (8 oz) of Parmesan, caciocavallo and/or another hard cheese, cut into cubes (see Notes)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Blanch the salt pork for a few minutes in unsalted water to remove the excess saltiness.

Add the salt pork and other meats to a large pot and cover by at least 5cm/2 inches with water. Francesconi says that the water should cover the meats by ‘four fingers’, if you want to measure that way…

Salt the water lightly and bring the pot to a simmer, skimming carefully to remove the scum that will rise to the top. Then add your aromatics. Continue simmering for about 2-1/2 or 3 hours, until the meats are very tender and the broth is flavorful.

Let the soup cool, if possible overnight in the fridge. The fat will have risen to the top of the pot and solidify. Remove most (but not all) of the fat, then bring the pot back to the simmer. Fish out the meats and aromatics with a slotted spoon. Discard the aromatics.

Pull the pork off the ribs and cut up the other meats into bite-sized chunks and set aside, with a ladleful of the broth to keep it moist.

Fill another large pot with water, salt very lightly and bring to the boil. Chop or slice your vegetables and throw them into the boiling water.

As soon as the water comes back to the boil, drain them in a colander, rinse with cold water and then, using a spatula or wooden spoon (or even your hands) press out as much water as you can.

Add these blanched vegetables to the broth along with the cubed cheese. Mix and bring it all to a simmer. Let the pot cook gently for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft. About 10 minutes or so before the vegetables are done, add back the meats.

Serve hot, with crusty bread and, for those who like it, some additional grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

Notes

The mix of meats and vegetableshere, as well as the proportions, are really just guideposts. Feel free to personalize the soup by mix and matching meats that you like, add more or less of this or that. In today’s market, for example, they were out of chicory, so I made due with a combination of the other green veggies. If you can’t find broccoli rabe, feel free to use regular broccoli. And you can try out others that strike your fancy I’ve read that collard greens are very nice in this soup, for example. As for the meats, other types of cured pork can substitute, although I would stay away from smoked meats, which would give the soup an uncharacteristic taste. In fact, some versions of the dish call for other meats, like chicken and beef, even if, to my mind, pork is what gives this dish its unique character.

And, by the way, Francesconi suggests serving the meats in a separate bowl, so each diner can add as much or as little meat as they would like. I prefer to mix things up—and I would are say, that’s the more usual practice.

Francesconi does not specify the aromatics, but I generally use the typical ones for Italian broths: an onion or two, two carrots, two celery stalks, plus a few sprigs of fresh parsley.

As for the cheeses, Parmesan is always part of the mix. Francesconi suggests a mixture of half Parmesan and half caciocavallo, a very typical Neapolitan cheese that you can usually find in the US in Italian delis. But if you can’t find caciocavallo, you can use another sharpish semi-hard cheese like provolone (also from Campania) or pecorino. I’ve also seen recipes that call for Parmesan only.

Minestra maritata is a soup, but this original Italian Wedding Soup so hearty it’s really a one-course meal or piatto unico. I’d follow it with a piece of fruit, nothing more.


The North American diet doesn’t include many bitter flavours, and rarely celebrates bitters. Yet bitter greens such as chicories, which includes radicchio, are high in nutrients and are well known for their health benefits. Using bitter flavours increases a chef’s pallet of options and the colours — rich reds and maroons to bright pinks — add a visual flare to salads. Plus, many radicchios are bred for autumn winter harvests, making them an ideal vegetable for salads and cooking as days get colder and shorter.

Adding bitter flavours to your diet can be a gradual process. As you regularly consume bitter flavours, your taste buds become more accustomed to bitter flavours. Plus, there are some techniques to consider when cooking with bitters:

  • Dilution: Don’t start out by biting into a plate of raw radicchio. Use a little it of bitter in a dish. Try adding a little bit radicchio to your salads for flavour and colour, mixing with other greens such as lettuce, arugula, kale and spinach. Also, try milder bitter greens such as frisée endive.
  • Caramelization: Roasting bitter vegetables helps bring out natural sweetness and balances the bitterness. Some radicchios, like Sugarloaf and Chioggia varieties are easy to cut into slices or wedges for grilling.
  • Salt: Adding salt helps to reduce the taste perception of bitterness. Consider ingredients such as feta cheese or prosciutto ham that add flavour and saltiness to a dish.
  • Sweetness: Adding sweetness balances bitter flavours. Using seasonal fruits in salads is a perfect way to add sweetness. Likewise, using honey in a salad dressing can add a sweet touch.

Overall, try contrasting bitter flavours with other strong flavours — the bitterness of radicchio in a salad with sweet pears, salty cheese or prosciutto and sour balsamic vinaigrette.

One other tip: most chicories are mildest when grown in colder weather. Seeking out radicchio in late-fall and early-winter will yield the most balanced flavour and spectacular colours.


This antipasto platter goes way past jarred peppers and cold cuts, with roasted vegetables that change with the seasons. Even at room temp, these options round out any meat and cheese platter.

This is an antidote to every side salad that ever was. Instead of meh greens, it's got shavings of fennel that bend and twist but keep their refreshing crunch. It's got a lean dressing and nuggets of deeply toasted croutons, meaty walnuts, and shards of Parmesan. It has acidity and zing—lemon juice, the zest, vinegar, mint, and red pepper flakes—just in case you were worried about palate fatigue. This is what salad looks like in 2018.


Italian Lobster Pasta

We spent our fifth wedding anniversary on the Amalfi Coast a few years ago, and one of our hotels had the most amazing lobster and martini bar. Their lobster pasta is one of the most memorable dinners from our trip. During our weekend at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, we went out early in the morning for a walk on the beach. It was cold and windy, and the tide was quickly coming in. For some reason, Clayton was immediately inspired to make a lobster pasta. I texted our friend Andi at Water2Table fish company and asked for a few lobster culls (we get these imperfect ones for things like pasta). They were waiting for us at our house when we got home.

We always like to get cooking the lobster out of the way as soon as possible. It’s no one’s favorite task, but we’ve detailed how to steam a lobster here. For the lobster pasta, we only wanted the meat and the heads, so we picked all the meat out of the lobster tail and claws and squeezed it out of the legs (rolling over them with a rolling pin is the easiest way to get the meat from legs). We rinsed the heads under running water and put everything in the refrigerator in a hotel pan until we were ready to finish the pasta.

Once the lobster is cleaned, the hardest part is out of the way. To finish the rest of the dish, we crushed two Italian red chilis in our Alessi chili crusher and minced three cloves of garlic (we use a chef’s knife like this or this) and cut 1 cup of cherry tomatoes in half (for this it’s safer to use a utility knife like this or this). Once everything is prepped, it comes together really quickly.

To serve, we kept things simple with large white bowl and our Alessi pasta tongs. Pair the lobster pasta with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Rossese. We can’t wait to make it again!


Pensieri Meridionali

Greetings from Massachusetts, where I write to you from under two feet of snow!

Don't worry: they gave us lots of advance warning. That's why on Wednesday I was already dreaming about which dish I would choose to make during the storm.

The most popular dish in Avellino is minestra maritata con la pizza bionda (in dialect, 'a menesta maretata co' 'a pizza jonna) — literally, "married soup with blonde pizza." Every cook in Avellino makes it, although they make it only in wintertime.

I had never made menesta. I was dreaming about it for two reasons: (1) We are, without doubt, in wintertime! (2) A week ago, Frank Fariello, author of “Memorie di Angelina” (memoriediangelina.com), the best Italian-American foodblog on the Web, posted an excellent recipe for minestra. (Angelina was from Apice, a town in the province of Benevento on the Avellinese border.)

’A menesta maretata was the precursor to the delicious but stupidly named, "Italian Wedding Soup," served at almost every Italian-American wedding feast. But the word maretata ("married") refers to the marriage between the greens and the meats.

Step I: The meat stock

It's preferable to make the stock the day before, so that the lard will rise to the top and harden. In my case, being in the clutches of the snowstorm, I didn't waste space in the fridge I put the pan out on the porch!

To a certain extent, you use the meats that you have. A cousin of mine from Avellino, Raffaele S. Ciampa, uses sausages and pancetta. "Then if you really want to be traditional," Raffaele continues, "a pig's foot, a pig's tail, a pig's ear, cotechino, hot sausages. You can use any of these that you like. You can also use smoked meats." (Certain cooks, like Frank Fariello, prefer not to put smoked meats in this dish.)

The meats that I had in the house:

pepperoni
pancetta
salt pork

To flavor the stock, you can see from the photo that I used:

onion
celery
carrot
a few tomatoes (because I had them in the fridge)
potatoes
1 or 2 bay leaves
orange rind
1 small cinnamon stick
the hard rind of the parmigiano
black pepper (salt isn't needed)
other odds-and-ends from the freezer (I happened to have broccoli rabe stalks)
enough water to cover everything

The meat stock is ready. Into four receptacles, separate: the lard which has risen to the top the meats the potatoes and the stock.

(A brief digression: I mentioned earlier that I used broccoli rabe stalks — usually hard and very bitter, now tender and very tasty! I saved them today or tomorrow I will chop them in small pieces and add them to pasta. Yum!)

To make polenta, I always use the recipe by Lidia Bastianich (even though she is from Northern Italy).

4 cups water, or use half milk for a richer taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (Cousin Raffaele uses instead 3 tablespoons lard)
1 bay leaf (which I omitted this particular time I'd already put a couple in the stock)
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1½ cups coarse yellow cornmeal

In a medium cast-iron saucepan or other heavy pot, bring all ingredients except cornmeal to simmer over medium heat. Very slowly, begin to sift corn meal into the pan through the fingers of one hand, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk. (This operation will be greatly facilitated if the meal is scooped by the handful from a wide bowl.) Gradually sift remaining meal into the pan, continue to stir, and reduce heat to medium low. Continue to stir until the polenta is smooth and thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan as it is stirred, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

At this point, you have two choices: (1) Pour the polenta onto a large, wooden cutting board and let it rest at room temperature (2) Pour the polenta in one or two pans (I like Pyrex) and put them in the fridge. (Read Step IV to decide which type of "pizza" you will make. Then you will know which of the two choices you want to make.)

I repeat what I said earlier: to a certain extent, you use what you have in the fridge.


Traditionally, what were the greens used in minestra maritata?

In Torre le Nocelle, a small Avellinese town near Montefalcione (my great-grandmother was from Torre), they use a mixture of greens called asciatizza: chicory, dandelion greens, wild fennel leaves, borage leaves, and cardilli (puntarelle).

Cousin Raffaele suggests the following: cabbage, savoy cabbage, escarole, chicory, broccoli rabe, cardilli. Frank Fariello mentions also broccolo di foglia (a type of leafy broccoli), torzella (a curly-leaved cabbage that looks like kale), and scarolella (a type of wild escarole in Campania).

The three greens that I had in the fridge made a wonderful trio:

collard greens
chicory
dandelion greens

With the collards, take off the stems, which are hard like Swiss chard stems.

With the chicory, cut off only the bottom. But wash the stems very well.

With the dandelion greens, the leaves are delicate and interesting. The stems, however, are very hard and bitter. Take them off.

Have the separated stock on the stove, simmering slowly. (It's already cooked you're only keeping it hot, not making it evaporate.)

My method for cooking green, leafy vegetables never changes only the cooking time changes. Collard greens take c. 15 minutes, chicory c. 10, dandelions c. 5.

In a new pan, put the lard from the stock (or, less authentically, extra-virgin olive oil). Fry 4 or 5 whole garlic cloves (don't chop or press them keep them whole) and crushed red pepper. When the garlic is golden, add 1 or 2 cups stock. Add the collard greens and a tiny pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the chicory, another 1-2 cups stock, and a tiny pinch of salt cook for 5 minutes. Add the dandelions, 1-2 cups stock, and a tiny pinch of salt cook for 5 minutes. Therefore the total cooking time, from the moment that you added the collards to the moment you shut the heat, is 15 minutes. After shutting the heat, add 16 oz. precooked cannellini beans (if from a can, rinse well), the potatoes cut in large cubes, and the meats. (With the pepperoni, cut in medallions with the pancetta and salt pork, separate the meat by hand.)

Mettere carboni ardenti nel chinco per una decina di minuti. Togliere la brage e dopo aver foderato l’interno del chinco con foglie di castagno versare la polenta, coprirla con uno altro strato di foglie ed un coperchio di stagnola. Infine seppellire il coccio sotto la cenere bollente e cuocere finché non si sarà formata sopra la pizza una crosta dorata e croccante.

("Put coals in the chinco for about ten minutes. Remove the embers, and after lining the inside of the chinco with chestnut leaves, pour in the polenta, cover it with one more layer of leaves and tin foil. Finally, bury the pan under the hot ash and cook until a crisp, golden crust has formed over the pizza.")

If you're like me, you do not happen to own a chinco! Not to worry: there are many methods for making polenta, all authentic to the Campania region:

1. At Step II, pour the polenta onto a large, wooden cutting board and let it solidify at room temperature. When it is hardened enough, put the menesta on top of it, take the large cutting board to the table, and everyone takes their portion from the cutting board, family-style.

2. Take the pan of polenta from the fridge and bake it in a 350º oven for about a half-hour. . ( Addendum, June 2020 : I discovered only recently that my grandmother from Montefalcione cooked it in the oven in a cast-iron pan.)

3. Take the pan of polenta from the fridge. Slice the polenta, and fry the slices in a frying pan. Now, in the olden days, the frying pan was cast iron, seasoned not with oil but with lard! The result was a nonstick pan, from which every food that emerged was tasty! At this point you will not be surprised that our ancestors fried the slices of polenta in lard.

Usually, I use the 3rd method. Nowadays, frying pans are usually stainless steel or a nonstick surface like Teflon. I use a wonderful Scanpan, made of ceramic-titanium. But yesterday! Yesterday, I did something a little different!

Place the grilled polenta on a plate. Put the menesta on top. Sprinkle freshly grated pecorino romano or caciocavallo.

Addendum: Wine-pairing

With menesta, I like a white wine from Campania full of character. I am particularly fond of Falanghina, a varietal with a very long history. Two Avellinese wineries make an exceptional Falanghina: Feudi di San Gregorio and Donnachiara.


Chicory Drink and Dessert Recipes

As a New Orleans resident, I can testify: you’ve been making your coffee the wrong way this whole time. Chicory coffee is insanely delicious and easy to make. Just check out the fantastic recipes below.

New Orleans Coffee

With a rich chocolate-caramel flavor, low caffeine content, and heavenly smell, this New Orleans coffee will become your new favorite coffee. With just coffee, chicory, salt, water, and a bit of sugar, this coffee is super simple but supremely satisfying.

Chicory Latte

This chicory latte takes the decadence of chicory coffee up a notch. It’s slightly sweeter but just as delicious. It is roasted chicory, roasted dandelion root, water, coconut butter, pitted dates, nutmeg, and a scoop of collagen. You’ll love this sweet but fairly healthy latte.

Chicory Mocha

If you love chocolatey coffee but aren’t a fan of the caffeine, then step right up. This chicory mocha is the perfect brew for you. Savor this sweet beverage in the morning or sip it at night as a pre-bed dessert.

Chicory Chunk Coffee Ice Cream

My favorite ice cream flavor of all time is coffee ice cream, so I’m in love with this chicory chunk coffee ice cream recipe. The chicory adds roasted maple-like notes to this sweet slightly-bitter ice cream that will become your new favorite frozen treat.