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Rice and Eggplant Soup, Minestra di Melanzane e Riso

Eggplant is one of the most classic south Italian vegetables, and though it often finds its way into pasta sauces, it’s not common in soups. This recipe is Puglian, and also calls for rice, which, legend has it, was introduced to Italy by the Arabs who once dominated southern Italy.

To serve 4:

  • 3/4 cup (150 g) rice
  • 3 medium eggplants, stemmed and cubed
  • A medium onion
  • An egg
  • A small bunch parsley, minced
  • A dozen fresh basil leaves, shredded
  • A quart (1 liter) of vegetable broth
  • 1 cup (50 g) freshly grated Parmigiano or mild Romano cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the cubed eggplant in a colander, sprinkle it abundantly with salt, and let it set for a couple of hours. While it’s setting, chop the onion and the herbs, and heat the broth to a simmer.

Heat a quarter cup of olive oil in a soup pot and sauté the onions and the herb mixture. Rinse the eggplant well and drain it.

When the onions begin to soften, add the diced eggplant and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in the simmering broth and the rice, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until the rice is done. While the rice is cooking, lightly beat the egg and mix the cheese into it.

When the rice is done, remove the pot from the fire, briskly stir a ladle of the soup into the egg mixture, and then stir the egg mixture back into the soup. Drizzle with a little more olive oil, check seasoning, and serve.

Adriana’s Minestrone di Verdure

There are a great many variations on minestrone, and Adriana’s is extraordinarily creamy, thanks to a healthy number of potatoes. She says you can use short pasta such as ditalini in the dish, but that she prefers croutons instead, because they provide a pleasant texture contrast. To serve 15 (or fewer in fewer meals than you might think; expect people to ask for seconds):

  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 15 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • The leafy fronds from three celery stalks, chopped
  • A small bunch parsley
  • A handful of dried beans (3/4 cup to a cup)
  • A handful of lentils (same volume)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 leeks, white part only, chopped
  • 1/2 of a bulb of fennel
  • 3 leaves fresh spinach
  • 3 leaves fresh beet greens
  • A chunk of squash, peeled
  • The rinds from a wedge of Parmigiano or Grana Padana, if you have them
  • A 6-ounce (150 g) slice of cooked ham
  • A 6-ounce (150 g) slice of speck (smoked prosciutto, which is typical of Northeastern Italy)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Croutons
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano

Set the beans to simmer in a pot of lightly salted water until they are tender.

Combine all the remaining ingredients except the croutons, and simmer them in a pot with abundant water for 3-4 hours. Blend the soup, so as to make it creamy. Add the beans, and if the soup is too thick some of the bean broth (taste it to make sure it’s not overly salty first). Check seasoning, heat the soup to a boil, and serve it with croutons, grated cheese, and extra virgin olive oil for those who want it.

The rest of the meal this was served in.

La Pasqua Napoletana: Minestra di Pasqua, Easter Soup

The traditional beginning of the Neapolitan Easter meal, this is by today’s standards somewhat heavy. Should you prefer, make broth and serve it with tagliolini (similar to tagliatelle but about an eighth of an inch across). If you intend to follow tradition, this recipe is after Cavalcanti, the great Neapolitan gastronome of the mid-1800s.

To serve 6:

  • 3/4 pound (300 g) breast of veal
  • 1 pound (450 g) beef shank
  • 3/4 pound (300 g) pig’s tails (substitute lean pork if you prefer)
  • 3/4 pound (300 g) Neapolitan sausages
  • 1/2 pound (200 g) Neapolitan salami
  • Fresh parsley and thyme
  • Marjoram
  • A little bit of rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • 1.5 quarts (1.5 liters) water
  • 5 pounds (2 k) cardoons stripped of their fibrous threads, or 5 pounds leafy vegetables (savoy cabbage, lettuce, beet greens etc.)
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) dry white wine
  • Salt (to be added at the end)
  • Pepper or hot pepper to taste

On Easter Eve make broth using the meat and the herbs; begin with cold water to cover and place the herbs in a gauze pouch so you can remove them easily when the broth is done (an hour or somewhat more simmering; taste the liquid and correct seasoning). Remove and discard the herbs. Remove the meat from the broth, pluck it from the bones, and set it in a bowl, with enough broth to cover.

The next day skim the fat from the bowl and the soup pot and stir in the wine. Scrub chop and boil the greens until almost done, drain them well, and finish cooking them in the broth with the meats, seasoning to taste. Serve with slices of toasted bread.

Other Neapolitan Easter Recipes

The Adriatic Fishermen’s Brodetto, Brodetto dei Pescatori dell’Adriatico

Brodetto is the traditional fish stew of Riviera Romagnola, what the fishing families would prepare from the fish they were unable to sell — fish that were small or bony, and didn’t have much market value. But they are tasty, and while the women prepared it at home, the men cooked it on the boats.

To serve 6:

  • 3 pounds (1 1/2 k) mixed fish  (kinds discussed below)
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup strong vinegar
  • Abundant parsley
  • 3 onions
  • 1 cup extravirgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves Garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The fish should be what’s locally available, fresh, and inexpensive — no need for renowned exotics here. Rather, what is flavorful, and the fishermen use, among others, eel, sea mullet, flounder, squid, reef mullet, cuttlefish, and scorpion fish. Wash clean and scale the fish, cutting up the larger fish and leaving the smaller fish whole.

Mince the parsley and the garlic, and slice the onions. Put them in a large pot, with the olive oil, set the pot over a moderate flame, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent gold. Add the tomato sauce, vinegar, and 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) boiling water. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper, cover the pot, and simmer for a half hour. Add the larger pieces of fish, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, and then the smaller pieces, recover the pot, and simmer everything for a half hour more.

Serve the brodetto over slices of bread that you have either toasted or fried in butter.

A few observations:

  • Though vinegar was traditionally used to flavor brodetto, many now prefer to add dry white wine.
  • There are a number of local variations along the Riviera Romagnola
  • In Cattolica they omit both parsley and vinegar.
  • In Riccione they omit the garlic, parsley, and onions, and let the sauce cool before they add the fish and return it to the fire; they sprinkle red wine into it.
  • In Cesenatico they omit the onion, vinegar, and wine.

You are free to follow local custom or not; I think I would go with all the ingredients.

About Brodetto and Other Brodetti

Cesentatico’s Brodetto, Il Brodetto di Cesenatico

Brodetto is the Riviera Romagnola’s traditional fish stew, and as is true for all regional specialties, there are many local variations. In particular, Cesenatici use eels and star gazers. To serve four you’ll need:

  • 4 1/2 pounds mixed fresh fish (kinds discussed below)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • A scant half cup (100 ml) olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley
  • A tablespoon of white wine vinegar or a half cup of dry white wine (optional)

The fish should be what’s locally available, fresh, and inexpensive — no need for renowned exotics here. Rather, what is flavorful, and in Cesenatico they use, among others, the greater weaver, tub gunnard, scorpion fish, sea eels, star gazers, and cuttlefish; many also add anglerfish, mullet, baby squid, and mantis shrimp. Scale and clean the fish as need be, wash it well, and cut up the larger fish while leaving the smaller ones whole.

Mince the garlic and parsley, finely slice the onion, and sauté the mixture in a broad fairly deep pot; when the onion has become translucent gold add the vinegar or wine if you’re using it, and when it has evaporated, the tomato paste diluted in a couple of ladles of boiling water (you’ll want enough to cover the fish), and season everything with salt and pepper.

When the mixture comes to a boil add the fish, beginning with the cuttlefish and squid. Simmer them covered for 10 minutes, and then add the larger pieces, cook a little longer, and then add the smaller pieces, keeping the pot covered between additions.

Raise the heat to a slightly brisker simmer and cook ten minutes more, then reduce the heat to a slower simmer and cook another 20, removing the lid for the last 10 to let the sauce thicken.

Serve the brodetto over slices of toasted bread.

In terms of variations, many add either shrimp or scampi, and clams or mussels, though traditionalists frown at both of these additions.

About Brodetto and Other Brodetti