WINTER VEGETABLE SOUP
Minestra maritata alla Foggiana
Serves 6 - 8
Preparation - Difficult; Prep: 1:00 - Cook: 1:30
When icy blasts from the Daunian mountains sweep across the wintry plains of the Tavoliere around Foggia, the country folk huddle inside next to smoky fires, venturing forth only to scavenge whatever scraps are left from summer's abundance.
A little of this, a little of that, a pinch of something else, go into the layers that make up a proper maritata. But don't make the mistake of thinking you can just throw any old leftovers together.Each of these greens is carefully, separately, cooked, then layered and dressed with little squares of pancetta and a grating of pecorino before the final bath of rich meat broth and a quick turn in a hot oven to marry the flavors-whence, apparently, the name maritata.
Since the usual ingredients of the maritata-including wild fennel, wild chicory, and other wild greens-are not easy to obtain in this country, I have adapted the concept with greens that can be found here.You could even use Asian greens, such as tatsoi and bok choy. If you wish to make a vegetarian version, simply leave out the bacon and use vegetable stock instead of meat stock. A maritata can be infinitely varied, depending on what's in the market. Cauliflower might make one of the layers, for instance, or even thinly sliced potatoes.Some cooks like to increase the soup's warming potential with a few sprinkles of crushed red pepper flakes, and it's often served in a deep soup plate over a toasted crust of bread that's been rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.
Large pot, saucepan, sauté pan, ovenproof casserole.
- 1/2 lb pancetta or slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups meat broth
- 1 bunch (1 lb) escarole, rinsed
- 1 bunch, (1 lb) red or green chard, rinsed
- 1 bunch (1 lb) dandelion greens, broccoli rabe, spinach, or turnip greens, or whatever is available, rinsed
- 4 to 5 T extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
- 1 bulb fennel, coarsely chopped
- 1 bunch celery hearts, coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/2 cup freshly grated bread crumbs
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- If you are using slab bacon, immerse the diced bacon in a pan of rapidly boiling water and blanch for 2 minutes to get rid of the excessively smoky flavor.
- Add the pancetta or blanched bacon squares to the meat stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer very slowly over low heat. Once the stock reaches the simmering point, turn the heat down very low, so that the stock remains hot without actually cooking.
- Place the rinsed and still wet escarole in a large pot and cook until tender but still al dente. If necessary, add just a little water to the liquid clinging to the leaves to keep them from burning. When done, remove from the pot, chop coarsely, and set aside.
- Add the chard to the liquid remaining in the pot, cook until al dente, remove, chop, and set aside.
- Now add the final bunch of greens and proceed as for others. As you do this, you'll build up a few tablespoons of flavored vegetable stock in the bottom of the pot.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Adjust so that the onions soften and turn golden but do not become brown.Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions from the pan, leaving most of the oil behind, and set aside.
- Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and sauté the fennel until soft and golden. Remove, drain, and set aside.
- Finally, adding yet another tablespoon of oil if necessary, gently cook the chopped celery till soft and golden, drain, and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 425 deg. F
- Layer the cooked escarole in the bottom of an ovenproof soup pot, preferably an earthenware casserole.
- Arrange a few squares of the pancetta or bacon over the top and sprinkle with a tablespoon of grated cheese.
- Top with the sautéed onions, add more pancetta and cheese, and continue in this manner, layering the vegetables in the pot - chard, fennel, dandelion or other greens, celery - interspersed with pancetta ad cheese.
- Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.
- Make a thick layer of cheese on the topmost layer of vegetables and sprinkle with the bread crumbs.
- Use the oil remaining in the pan to drizzle over the top, or add a fresh tablespoonful if necessary.
- Add any juices left from the greens pot to the almost simmering stock and pour it over the layers in the soup pot.
- The liquid should just come to the topmost layer of vegetables.Place the pot in the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes, checking from time to time. If the top gets too brown, turn the heat down to 325 degrees F and continue cooking.
Flavors of Puglia
Nancy Harmon Jenkins