It’s finally cold.
I can’t say I love the bite of the wind on my face or the shock of snow that sneaks into my jean cuffs and freezes my dry winter ankles. What I do love is the feeling of comfort I experience when coming in from the cold.
I love making soup in winter.
It fills the entire house with fragrant warmth and tells everyone who knocks on my door, “come in from the cold.”
My mother is a chicken soup expert, as my grandmothers were before her. Each woman had her own techniques with a chicken and a pot. My mother would place the chicken and all of the fixings in the pot. She never chopped the carrots, celery or onions but left them whole so that the soup was floating with long carrots and celery, big chunks of chicken and whole onions. It was colorful and fun - the veggies were like prizes. At dinner time, I always claimed the whole onion. After cooking all day, the onions had a sweet flavor, and I loved breaking them up into my bowl of steaming broth and noodles and dumping parmesan cheese and black pepper all over them. So yummy.
Nana Battaglia never called it chicken soup. For her, it was pastina. Fresh chicken broth with bits of meat, celery, onion, and most importantly – acini de pepe - tiny pasta balls that must release some kind of healing magic the second they burst on your tongue. Nana fed us pastina when my brother and I were infants and gave it to us when we were sick as kids. When our hearts were broken, she’d say “Come in the kitchen. I make a pastina.”
Food is therapy for Italians.
It’s medicine too.
My kids love pastina, and I make it for them often, although my favorite soups are thicker and heartier than the traditional chicken soup.
My personal favorite soup is one I have been making since college. My roommate introduced me to the vegetarian Moosewood Cookbook, and I found an awesome vegetarian minestrone in it that I have tweaked over the years. It is the perfect soup for cold days, full of flavor and healthy veggies and legumes.
Vegetarian Minestrone – originally from the Moosewood Cookbook
3T olive oil
2 onions chopped
6 or so cloves of garlic, minced
A couple handful of fresh or frozen basil
2 chopped carrots
2 chopped celery stalks
1 eggplant, peeled and chopped into bite size chunks
1 green pepper
2 28 oz cans tomato sauce
4C water or vegetable broth
1 can chick peas
2 cups cooked elbow macaroni or ditalini
Grated cheese for serving
Saute onions and garlic in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add carrots,celery, eggplant and basil. (If you are using fresh basil, save some for serving to sprinkle on top.) Let the veggies cook until they are soft. Add the zuke, the green pepper, the tomato sauce and water. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer. Cover and allow the soup to cook for at least 45 mintues so that all of the flavors meld and the veggies get soft. Add the chick peas and let them warm up in the soup. Serve with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.
If you are in Pittsburgh like I am, then it’s time to make this soup. The snow is coming this weekend, and there’s nothing better than sitting down to a bowl of this with some crusty bread while you watch the white stuff fall. I’ll be making the vegetarian Minsterone this afternoon so that we can have it to eat all weekend.
Stay warm, friends!
And, eat soup!