Of Popes and Soups – Minestra vegetale

There is no denying that Nimrod has a lot to answer for, oh yes, no question.  If it hadn’t been for him, there would not have been that hubris-inspired Tower of Babel and God wouldn’t have been irritated by this wannabe skyscraper, nor by the fact that people spoke only one language at that time.  Not only did that tower have to go, but people were now to multiply linguistically as well as numerically: “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:6-7).  There was much scattering of people after that, which would explain how languages and multiculturalism spread around the earth.

Now, if we have Nimrod to blame for the downward spiralling into accents, jargon, colloquialism, vernacular, slang and a lot of loss in translation, it can also be countered that language and languages are truly intriguing.  This being a food blog,  I am also fascinated by how many expressions in Italian are based on food.  Put food and translation in the same bracket and the outcome can be quite surprising.  Literal translations from one language to another, for instance, can be very amusing … hardly ever do they make any sense in the ‘other’ language.  What would anyone who does not understand Italian, let alone Roman slang, make of the following for instance:

Roman:  A Moré, sta in campana. Stai manzo. Se no, te do giù de brutto!

Literal English translation: Little Black, stand in bell.  Be beef.  Or I give you down of ugly!

Are you confounded at all?  It stands for something like this: “Oi you with the dark hair and/or dusky complexion.  You watch it.  Keep calm.  Or else, I’ll beat you up and it’ll be ugly.”  Isn’t it interesting how “stai manzo” (“be beef”, i.e. keep calm, keep your cool) makes reference to how calm and unaggressive cows can be?

Now, when it comes to soup … every scrap, or every little bit, helps — and thus we get the expression “tutto fa brodo” which literally translates into English as “all makes soup”.  If someone offers you something and you don’t want to scoff at it, you can say with a semi-grateful shrug of your shoulders, “tutto fa brodo”.

On the other hand, Italians know that “an old chicken makes good stock” — that’s English for “gallina vecchia fa buon brodo”.  This is a bit ageist, as comments go.  But it’s all about wasting not and wanting not.  If the chicken is no longer young and pretty, so what? It’ll make good soup.  Give the poor ol’ thing a final fling.

We all love soup, we do, especially in Winter, but if soup is all you get to eat day in, day out … it can make people a bit surly after a while, no?  And that’s when you get the expression, “la solita minestra” — “the usual soup”, thoroughly uninspiring.  The ‘usual soup’ is code for something akin to “nothing ever changes” or “same old, same old”.  This is often to be heard in connection with politics in Italy ….

When it comes to popes, however, the subtext is all about disenchantment and the impossibility of being indispensable.  “Morto un papa, se ne fa un altro” is what they say, philosophically, meaning: “once one pope is dead, another comes up”.  In other words: Big deal.  That’s the way the cookie crumbles … Life goes on.

When a boyfriend ditched me at a very impressionable age and I was quite beside myself with woe, older people especially would try to buck me up by pointing out that never mind that one pope had died, soon a new one would come into my life.  I found this all a bit disconcerting and thought no one could ever ever EVER match the said boyfriend.  But it turns out they were right and I eventually met and fell in love with my husband.

The Pope’s abdication yesterday made headlines all over the world and, whatever else can be said about this momentous and historic decision of his, I realise that the Italian language might have to shake off one of its proverbs … because Pope Benedict has NOT died and yet we are to have a new pope.  Are we now to intone: “once one pope abdicates, another one will come up” ? This is a conundrum that calls for soup … even the same ol’ same ol’ ‘solita minestra’ !

Ingredients: this is a soothing soup for very cold weather and uncertain times, when life is already too full of variety to want to spice it up more and, if anything, we want to tone things down reassuringly and lean back on familiarity.  So, for starters, the ingredients are basically any veggies you happen to have in the fridge, nothing fancy.  They included: parsley, carrots, onions, cabbage, courgettes, tomatoes and spring onions.  Optional (although I do recommend it) a sprig of rosemary.  The only sultry ingredient is turmeric.  Reading about the health benefits of turmeric a few years ago, I decided to add a pinch ‘here and there’, especially to soups, as much as I could.

What makes this soup good, apart from the ingredients obviously, is the fact that one gently cooks a few of the ingredients prior to adding water.  I don’t know exactly why, but this enhances their taste.  It means a little bit more work, but it’s well worth it.

Start by roughly chopping the carrots and onion …
IMG_5983 Pour some olive oil into a saucepan, and allow the carrot and onion to sweat for about 8-10 minutes on a low heat.IMG_5984Chop the cabbage and put it into the pot where the soup is going to cook.  Drizzle some oil, and scatter 1 teaspoon of turmeric and, again, as with the carriots and onion, cook over a low heat for about 5 minutes.  I also added a few pepper corns, but they are hiding in this photo. (Pepper corns can be shy and bashful on occasion.)
IMG_5985Once the carrots and onion have sweated properly and indicated they’ve thoroughly enjoyed their sauna , transfer them to the pot where the cabbage and turmeric are waiting for them.  Now chop up some celery and sweat that too, with a smidgeon of olive oil, in the same saucepan where you previously sweated the carrots and onion.  This is not a stir fry, so keep the heat low.IMG_5986 While the celery is sweating, trim two tomatoes.

IMG_5982Get hold of some parsley and roughly chop some of the stems (we don’t want the leaves).  The parsley stems don’t need sweating.

IMG_5987 Time to put things together.  So … here we have the carrots, onion, cabbage and celery (which have all been sweated) and the parsley.  Apart from the parsley, all the other vegetables are basically ‘cooked’.  Sprinkle a little salt over the veggies and mix them up.IMG_5988Now add the water and turn the heat on … quite high at first and then, once the soup reaches a simmer, on a lower heat.IMG_5989 Chop the tomatoes and sprinkle some salt over them too …IMG_5990 And add the tomatoes to the soup …IMG_5991 While the soup is simmering, trim the courgettes.IMG_5992 Cut the outside of the courgettes, i.e. the green part.  The white part on the left in this photo is pretty tasteless and doesn’t do much for the soup.  Call me extravagant but I chuck this away.IMG_5993I am after the brilliance of the green.  Green the colour of hope, the colour of Spring, the colour of the heart chakra.  And the colour of emeralds, I might add too!  Lovely gems, emeralds are …
IMG_5994Slice the courgettes and add them to the soup five minutes before you want to serve it.  Add salt and taste, until the balance is right.
IMG_5995 Here are the spring onions …. chop them too.IMG_5996 Add them at the last minute.  (And there are the trusty pepper corns, showing themselves at last on the left.)IMG_5997 Mix everything up.  Add a sprig of rosemary.  Turn the heat off.  Put the lid on, for about 3 minutes.  Then remove the rosemary.IMG_6002A very good soup, a very soothing soup … good enough for a pope, new or old.  Good for the body, good for the spirit.

Even vegans would like this soup.  I, on the other hand, sprinkled some freshly grated parmesan cheese over mine.

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About myhomefoodthatsamore

Community celebration via food, wine and all beautiful things.
This entry was posted in Basic Techniques, Herbs and plants, italian home food, Soups, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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