Monday, 23 February 2015

A Little Bitter- A Lot Better!

Minestra Rustica di Maccheroncini Integrale, Cicoria & Lenticchie Rosse
Rustic Whole-Grain Noodle, Chicory & Red Lentil Soup

I may live in Frankfurt, Germany, I may have been born in the West Midlands, in England... but my roots are firmly and well and truly set in Sicily when it comes to food! I like all kinds of cuisines from all over the world, but the kind of food I like the best is the simple, unpretentious home cooking of the South!

Most of my dishes are based on the same simple methods, the simple ingredients and the rich, earthy flavors they bring. I like the bitterness of the wild chicory and the richness of the raw olive oil... the simple things indeed! The ones that remind me of "home".


Nothing is better, when the temperatures drop and the snow begins to fall, than a hearty bowl of hot, steaming and satisfying soup! I had this dish on my mind all the way home from work, with my scarf wrapped around my face to protect me from the chill of the wind... it was edible central-heating that I needed! And I got busy making it the minute I walked through the door and took of my coat!


To make myself 2 bowls of soup, I only ended up using 6-7 leaves of chicory, I needed 1 stalk of celery, 1 carrot, 1 shallot, 2 handfuls of noodles and 2 handfuls of red lentils, a little salt, pepper, olive oil... and about 40-45 minutes of my time.


Rich, earthy, with a touch of bitterness from the greens and nuttiness from the lentils- this was satisfying in the way that good examples of the "cucina povera" always are. It is the kind of food that poor people make- but that rich people envy. And I like it!


I cut up the carrot, celery, shallot and the stalks of the chicory into a fine dice and cut up the green leaves into thin strips, keeping everything nice and small so that it would swiftly cook-down and impart lots of flavor into the broth.

I began by frying up the carrot, celery and shallot together as a "soffritto"- the classic flavor-base of most Italian sauces and soups. These are the 3 important building-blocks of flavor- savory, sweet and full-bodied and essential in so many Italian dishes.


I then added the stalks of the chicory, a good pinch of salt, a little pinch of sugar and let them sizzle along for 3-4 minutes too.


Next came enough boiling water to cover everything well and a good 10 minutes at a gentle, rolling boil.


I then added the leaves of the chicory and continued boiling for a further 10 minutes.


10 minutes later, the greens and the other vegetables were fully cooked and the broth was a deep, rich green- packed with flavor from the greens! I tasted it and checked it for salt, added a little more on account of all of the other ingredients- and then added my noodles. And yep- back onto the boil it went for a further 10 minutes.


The lentils were the last ingredients and they cooked for 5 minutes at a gentle simmer, but then I left the soup to sit and finish cooking in its own residual heat before serving. Over-cooking red lentils is easy to do and when it happens they become soft and mushy and lose all of their bite- this way they remained intact and made for much more pleasant eating!

A good drizzle of raw, un-cooked olive oil at the end and a generous grind of pepper were the finishing touches- and supper was served!


Doesn't that look great? A real taste of Southern Italian country life!

You may not be a fan of bitter greens- but you can have my share of oysters and caviar and I will take them in exchange any day!

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