Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More Than Just Bread

Another before and after.
I've already decided to make every bread in Jim Lahey's My Bread cookbook. But, he has more than bread in there and I have been going back and forth about what exactly my responsibility to my cooking ethics and and anal retentive nature should be. Must I make every recipe in the book -- sandwiches, soups, pizza toppings -- because I have decided to make every bread? Must I make everything a competition? Will I be secretly (maybe not so secretly) disappointed if I don't do it all? Well yes. Even though I have decided on the leisurely pace of a loaf a week I can't leave stones unturned (or soups uncooked). So, while faced with a harvest of fresh Christmas lima beans and fridge full of delicious greens I spied Lahey's Ribollita recipe.
Ribollita is classic Tuscan peasant food. A thick soup -- or sometimes more like a casserole -- thickened with stale bread. On day one this hearty stew would be called Minestra di Pane (Bread soup), on day two re-heated it's Ribollita (re-boiled) and even better.
Following this recipe created a crisis on conscience. Lahey's instructions called for Savoy cabbage and Borlotti beans -- easily available, and yet I couldn't quite bring myself to go out and buy something new when I had perfectly good (seasonal and freshly harvested) ingredients right at home. Was I still following the recipe if I used chard and kale and radish greens? Maybe not according to some but I couldn't help but feel the substitution, opting for what was fresh and plentiful made the soup certainly more Italian (I know from years of experience Italians don't like waste or that sort of extravagance), more delicious, and more in keeping with the spirit of Lahey's recipe. So I followed his method with my ingredients.
Instead of starting with pancetta as I usually do, Lahey's saut├ęs red onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil along with salt, bay leaves and crushed red pepper. Then the greens are quickly wilted before canned tomatoes, water, a parmesan cheese rind and the beans are added in to simmer for 2 -3 hours. The last step, and the reason Lahey includes the recipe is thickening the stew with cubes of stale (certainly homemade) bread, stirred into the soup pot. To serve drizzle with good quality olive oil and parmesan cheese.

Fresh tasting soup from garden fresh ingredients.

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