mandag den 18. oktober 2010

Chickpea and vegetable soup

Minestre con ceci e verdure
The standard question whenever you meet an Italian housewife is ‘What are you making for dinner today?” They seek inspiration and want to share thoughts and ideas, and sometimes the implications are mildly surprising.

The other day a neighbour told me that this time of year her family’s daily main course consists of a hearty soup followed by some kind of fruit. They are basically living off the land, and only have to bend down to pick up squash, peppers, tomatoes, beans, chickpeas, mushrooms, eggplants, cabbage, onions, etc. Fresh, nutritious and tasty ingredients offering the additional advantage of unlimited variability. “Given such riches, who needs meat?” my friend asked. And I’m inclined to agree.

The only drawback is that a nice soup takes time to prepare. Dried beans or chickpeas have to be soaked for 24 hours in advance and boiled separately for an hour. And, although absolutely worthwhile, homemade vegetable stock amounts to an extra dish. Luckily, there are shortcuts like preparing double or triple portions of legumes and stock and preserving the rest in the freezer, or buying pre-cooked beans and good ready-made stock. Soup can be made on a sausage peg in a jiffy depending on whether you have got money or time to spare.

For the stock
4 onions
8 cloves garlic
½ celery root
2 carrots
1 fennel
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp pepper corns
1 tsp fennel seeds
Fresh parsley, thyme, rosemary, salvia, estragon
Olive oil
2 ltr cold water

For the soup
1 leek
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
2 squash
1 fennel
2 potatoes
1 ear of corn
1 bell pepper
2 dl boiled chick peas
Olive oil

Soak the chickpeas for 24 hours; boil for 1 hour and drain.

To prepare the broth, clean and chop all vegetables coarsely.
Heat the oil in a big soup pot, and fry onion, garlic, celery root, carrots, fennel and spices for 15 minutes without letting them change colour. They give off most flavour when soft and mushy.
Pour in water, bring it to the boil, add salt to taste and let the stock simmer for 15 minutes, before adding the fresh herbs. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, skim off foam and leave it for another 15 minutes.
Strain and discard vegetables. (A higher concentration of flavor can be obtained, if you reduce the liquid by cooking the stock uncovered over high heat for a while.)

Scrub and chop vegetables for the soup in small squares. Cut the maize off the ear.
Fry leek, carrots, celery, squash, fennel and potatoes in hot olive oil for a few minutes.
Pour in vegetable stock, bring it to the boil, and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
Add maize, bell pepper, and pre-boiled chickpeas and cook for another five minutes.
Serve the soup steaming hot with lots of nice bread.

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