There is a very traditional soup, with variations throughout Italy, whose body consists of stale bread, added to which, besides broth, are other herbs or vegetables and usually some kind of grated cheese and olive oil. They all taste pretty delicious in a comforting way and a very dear American friend of mine thought it was a pity, really, that the only name Tradition managed to come up for them was “pancotto”: which literally means “cooked bread”. The Tuscan version has an even less attractive nomenclature: “acquacotta” — which translates as “cooked water”. It doesn’t sound very enticiting, now, does it? I thoroughly concur with my friend even though I had never thought about it until she mentioned it.
These were soups that came from whatever scraps a housewife could put together. Bread holds a sacred place in Italian food generally, it is revered and no meal is ever complete without it. Even today, Italians will feel very bad about throwing away stale bread, thinking it the height of waste. There are always uses for it … and soup would have been just one of them. So …. let’s see what kind of cooked-bread I ended up making!
These are two rinds of parmesan cheese … another food item that would never have been thrown away (I keep mine in the freezer). The rind can be grilled but most usually it makes a great addition to any hearty soup.
Beans would very often accompany these soups … and so who am I to disagree with tradition! Keep some cooked beans to hand. They get added to the soup after it has cooked for a while. If you add them too soon, they become too mushy.
THE COOKING OF THE BREAD AND WATER BEGINS!
Next, the soffritto … the sautéed carrot, onion, celery and garlic ….
The parmesan rinds will have given off their final taste to the soup and can be removed. Taste the soup and make sure all is well in the salt-and-pepper department.
You can serve this soup with either grated parmesan or pecorino. A drizzle of olive oil. And for those who like chilli, add that too.
A soup based on leftovers doesn’t sound like much, does it? And yet … and yet … and yet … it tastes dashed good, yes, you bet!
P.S. And yes, I do know what Lord Curzon supposedly said … “No gentleman takes soup at luncheoon”. Well, in Italy they did and they do … and it wasn’t just the ‘gentlemen’!