As summer draws to a close, most of us have cleared out our garden beds either to let them rest for the winter months or turn them over for fall...
The simplest of meals can feed the soul. With the Thanksgiving holiday (and all its excesses) behind us, it is the simple soups of fall that I crave. A simple meaty mushroom soup or perhaps a simple pot of leftover stock with greens and eggs stirred throughout – nothing fussy yet satisfying to my very soul.
These recipes will require a bit of preparation in the kitchen but nothing excessive – a bit of time washing and chopping and rolling; a bit of quiet kitchen time after the storm of the recent holiday and in advance of the onslaught of future holiday activities. For me, this quiet kitchen time is as therapeutic as my morning meditation.
Grab that stockpot, turn your tunes to whatever may soothe your soul, and savor the process of turning the simplest of ingredients into a deeply satisfying meal.
I have included two soups here. The first is a hearty porcini and wild mushroom soup. The preparation is little more than a quick sauté of some mixed mushrooms followed by a simmer in stock - hearty and satisfying. The second is a treat that takes me straight back to my mother’s kitchen – a simple soup made with broth, little meatballs, greens and eggs. My mother almost always had a pot of this waiting for me when I would return home for college visits in the winter months. She would use whatever greens were available and at times, forgo the meat or the eggs if she did not have available.
To many Italian Americans, this soup is known as ‘Italian Wedding Soup’, although the origins of this soup are from a soup named minestra maritata, which translates to ‘married soup’, a reference to the fact that you are marrying the greens to the stock.
When your creation is finished, simply dish out a bowl, give it a fine dusting of Parmigiano, add some warm crusty bread and enjoy! Buon appetito!
Porcini and Wild Mushroom Soup
• 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
• About 16 ounces fresh mixed wild mushrooms (such as shitake, cremini, oyster)
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 small onion, finely diced
• 2 cloves garlic, chopped
• About 3 tablespoons parsley, roughly chopped
• Approximately 8 cups homemade chicken broth (can substitute low-sodium canned broth)
• Freshly ground pepper
Place the dried porcini in a small bowl. Add boiling water to cover and allow to soak for at least 30 minutes.
Clean and trim the fresh mushrooms. Remove the stems from shitakes, if using. Quarter the mushrooms. In a soup pot, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Heat over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add the onion and cook until soft and translucent– about 2- 3 minutes. Add in the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add in the fresh mushrooms and allow to cook for a few minutes until the moisture from the mushrooms is released.
Remove the porcini from the soaking liquid. Roughly chop and add to the pot. Add the chopped parsley and stir to incorporate. Strain the soaking liquid to remove any grit and add half the liquid to the pot. Add in the stock and bring to a boil. Taste. (You may want to add the remainder of the porcini soaking liquid for a stronger porcini taste.)
Lower the heat and cover; simmer for about 20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve.
Minestra Maritata (“Italian Wedding Soup”)
For the meatballs:
• 1 small onion, minced or grated
• 1/4 cup chopped parsley
• 2 cloves of garlic, minced
• 1 large egg, slightly beaten
• 1 slice white bread, crusts removed, torn into little pieces
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• 1/2 lb. ground pork
• 1/2 lb. ground sirloin
• Freshly ground black pepper
For the soup:
Approximately 8 cups homemade chicken broth (can substitute low-sodium canned broth)
About 6 cups of escarole (can substitute other greens; baby spinach works great too; I also sometimes use a mixture of spinach and escarole)
• 2 large eggs
• 2 tablespoons grated parmigiano cheese
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Additional parmigiano cheese for the top
For the meatballs: Mix the onion, parsley, garlic, egg, bread, salt together in a large bowl. Add the ground pork, ground beef, Parmigiano cheese and pepper. Mix together. (Be careful not to overmix or meatballs tend to get tough.) Using your hands or two spoons, shape into little meatballs – approximately 1 inch in size. Place on cookie sheet or tray.
For the soup: Bring broth to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add the meatballs to the broth and cook until they are almost cooked through (about 5 minutes). Spoon any foam off the top.
Add greens to the broth. Cook until wilted – about 3 minutes.
Whisk the eggs and cheese in a small bowl to blend. Gradually add the egg mixture to the soup, using a fork to gently stir the eggs into thin threads in the broth.
Add salt and pepper, to taste. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.