October 30, 2019
Everything is going to seed in my spring garden. A combination of rain showers followed by sun and warmth and all my winter vegetable plants want to sing and dance and reproduce. Reaching their limbs to the sky and bursting into flower. It is a glorious sight.
Before the brassica plants – broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts – make a full bolt for it, I can squeeze a few more meals out of them. The tender sprouting shoots are sweet and flavoursome for sauteing with a little olive oil or adding to a simple soup. And when the flowers burst, they can be plucked and sprinkled over spring salads.
If you don’t currently have brassica plants bolting in your backyard, any spring greens can be used in this adaptable soup recipe with two endings. It is a recipe inspired by the smells and sounds of clinking crockery behind closed doors while wandering the cobblestone alleyways in the Tuscan countryside.
The base of this soup is a slow-cooked vegetable medley. In Italian cuisine, it is called a soffrito, similar to a mirepoix in the classical French cooking I learnt as a chef trainee. It is not a step worth skimping on as it creates a depth to the soup that is rich while humble. After making the base of this soup, it can be taken in two directions depending on what is at hand.
For a simple lunch, use the end of a sourdough loaf to make a hearty ribollita soup, which has its roots in the Tuscan countryside. Or make a filling minestrone soup with broken spaghetti pieces (or another pasta of choice), served with fresh-baked bread. Minestrone may be considered cucina povera, or the “poor kitchen” soup, but it is flavoursome and filling, using what is on hand and wasting little.
Tuscan Soup with Brassica Shoots
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 brown onion, chopped
- 3 stalks celery, chopped, including the greens
- 2 carrots, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, gently squashed and left whole
- Small bunch of parsley, stalks and leaves chopped separately
- About 50g speck (smoked pork belly) or 4 rashers streaky bacon, diced
- 1 cup tomato passata
- 2 litres of vegetable or chicken stock
- 8 mm thick slice of parmesan cheese, about 30g
- 150 g spaghetti - broken into 5cm lengths
- OR 2-3 slices sourdough bread, torn into bite-sized pieces
- 400 g can cannellini beans, drained
- A large handful - about 250g of brassica shoots, silverbeet or Tuscan kale, shredded
- Salt and pepper to season
Start by setting a large pot over a low heat, add two tablespoons of olive oil and the chopped onion. Begin to slowly saute while preparing the celery and carrots, adding to the pot as they are ready. If the vegetables begin to catch, add an extra splash of olive oil.
Add the squashed garlic, parsley stalks and speck or bacon, and cook for 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden and fragrant. Add the passata, stock and parmesan slice, and bring to a boil.
Option one: Minestrone – once the stock comes to a boil, add the broken spaghetti and cannellini beans and cook for 8-10 minutes until the spaghetti is cooked. Add the greens and chopped parsley and cook for another 4-5 minutes, just until the greens are soft. Season to taste and serve with bread and olive oil.
Option two: Ribollita – once the stock comes to boil, add the bread, cannellini beans, greens and chopped parsley and cook for 4-5 minutes until the greens are wilted. Drizzle with olive oil and serve in warmed bowls.