Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fresh Ricotta=Soup. Really.

The Cantina is closing on Monday, which means that one of my favorite times of year is here. Some people refer to it as autumn, or even fall (or autunno), but I refer to it as "soup season" (which might also be called pumpkin season, chestnut season and so forth. But that's for later). Anyone who knows me well knows that I love soup. A lot. I could live off it. I'm not saying this in a weird diet sense, but that I am almost always cold and I think soup is a fantastic way to really see some unique twists on global cuisines. Pho? Tom Kha? Minestrone? Gumbo? Goulash? Tomato? The list goes on. There is a soup for every mood.

So, when Manuel appeared with some fresh ricotta the other day, I was looking for some ways to use the fantastic, mildly sweet, creamy cheese other then eating it mixed with nutella on canestrelli (local Ligurian shortbread cookies). I made it in pasta (throw it in a tomato sauce just before serving) and was pretty much stumped after that. I wanted to make something different!
Then I remembered my food pilgrimage to the epicenter of "fusion" cooking before it was fashionable - Malta. I'd eaten a hearty vegetable soup there with a ton of stuff thrown in, disturbingly called "widow's soup", and I'm pretty sure I recalled some fresh ricotta scooped on top.

I found this recipe online (,1748,147174-255205,00.html) but jazzed it up a little - Fresh tomatoes instead of the paste and a touch of cumin, paprika and oregano - fresh rosemary and a dash of balsamic vinegar and honey, to keep that agrodolce Maltese feel. I also started with sauteeing some pancetta then starting my soup base from that. I omitted the pasta and poached the eggs whole on the surface of the soup, so upon serving the yolk could be broken, adding another level of flavor (and who doesn't like to "play" with their food?). Era buonissima:

This versatile and hearty vegetarian soup saw many Maltese families through difficult times, including WW II, when Malta was under constant threat of seige from air attack and people spent a majority of their time in shelters. While growing up in America, we also called this our meatless "Friday soup."
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 heaping tbsp. tomato paste
3 lg. onions, chopped
Salt and pepper
In a large soup pot, fry the onions in the oil until they are softened. Stir in the tomato paste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill the pot to the halfway mark with water, bring to a boil and add:
1 chopped and cleaned cauliflower
1 c. cooked beans (or peas)
2 chopped carrots
Any other vegetables you want
After 3/4 hour of simmering, add:
1 c. dry pasta (elbows, shells, broken-up spaghetti, etc.)
1 chopped lg. potato
Add more water if needed to cover the vegetables and cook for 20 minutes more. Into this simmering soup gently add:
2 eggs, slightly beaten in a cup
1 c. ricotta or feta cheese
For a special treat we often cracked open and dropped in a whole egg for each child or added hardened chunks of Parmesan cheese to soften in the soup. I think you'll agree this soup, served with a good bread, can be a meal in itself.

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