Ligurian Vegetable Soup

I went shopping to recreate the Ligurian vegetable soup I watched Lidia Bastianich make Saturday morning on PBS. I was fairly certain I’d gotten all of the ingredients, but only after I returned from the store did I google and discover someone else has done a much better job capturing the exact recipe!

Shamelessly, I set up my photograph of the ingredients to match the Madd Hatter’s, because her photo made me want the soup even more. I’m glad I had not read the post before I committed to making the soup, however, because Houston in April is never the time for a ‘must make as soon as the weather turns cold’ soup.

Don’t get me wrong. I think this soup will be excellent in winter. I’m just glad I didn’t wait!

The pesto-esque base is the key to this soup. Basil, I am quite sure, has magical restorative properties. The scent of this, raw, is absolutely heavenly. Even after cooking for almost 2 hours? The soup is absolutely redolent of fresh basil. I guess that’s what makes it seem to un-winter to me. Few things smell so fresh and green in winter.

Lidia’s Ligurian Vegetable Soup
1 onion, roughly chopped (I used a 1015 sweet onion)
6 – 10 cloves garlic, depending on clove size
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves (packed)
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil for cooking
1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 1/2 cup warm water
4-5 stalks celery, chopped small
4-5 carrots, chopped small
2 big tomatoes, chopped small
4-5 peeled and diced red potatoes (~2 pounds)
6 cups cold water
2 tablespoons salt
1 or 2 pieces outer rind of pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 small head curly chicory, torn into pieces
3 big handfuls spinach leaves
2 cups green peas (frozen or fresh)
Freshly grated cheese for serving
Good extra-virgin olive oil for serving

Make a pesto/paste with the onion, garlic, basil, parsley, and approximately 1/4 c. of the olive oil. Savor the smell.

Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in hot water to soften. The package I got contained a full ounce of mushrooms, so I soaked the whole package in about 1 cup of water, and used about half of them. The mushrooms are the evil opposite smell of the pesto, but don’t worry. The pesto mix shines through in the end product, not the mushroom funk. Mince them once they are soft (I used cooking shears to snip them in the little bowl – easier than chopping on a board, and captured some of the mushroom juice that way) and don’t throw out the juice!

Heat the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven. Add the pesto and stir for about 5 minutes, letting it really sizzle.

Once the pesto has dried up a bit (not much—you won’t notice a drastic dryness), add the potatoes, carrots, celery, and minced mushrooms.

The recipe says to cook at fairly high heat until the potatoes are starting to get develop a crust, but mine never did. I worried they would break down, so after some time, I just decided to forge ahead while I could still identify individual veggies in the mix:

They were not quite as bright as this shot shows. The color had definitely faded in the carrots and tomatoes by the time I moved on, crusty potatoes be damned.

The mushroom soaking liquid (a.k.a. juice) was so strong that my camera wouldn’t quite focus:

Once the mushroom liquid and water go in, add the salt and cheese rinds. Let it come back up to a boil, cover most of the way, and simmer for a little over an hour.

I thought I’d have to buy a wedge of cheese and cut off the rind, but the cheese shop at the grocery store actually sells wedges of rind from the big wheels they cut down. Don’t skip the cheese rind, even if you do have to cut your own from a big wedge, because this adds both salty, cheesy flavor (very subtle) and helps thicken the soup. I added four pieces of rind because mine came in multiple sizes. The biggest piece is the big square in the upper left quadrant in this picture:

That one piece was about the size of my spatula head; the other 3 pieces were smaller.

After the soup has simmered for an hour and a few minutes, stir in the chicory, spinach, and peas:

I was glad I’d seen Lidia make the soup before I went shopping, because I did not find a head of chicory at the grocery store. I did, however, find a head of curly endive that looked exactly like chicory. Apparently, they are almost the same thing. I think you could use either, both, or even substitute kale or other greens. Just keep the big, woody veins/stems out of the mix whatever green you use.

Let the soup continue to simmer for another half-hour or so, reducing it a bit. My soup did not have much liquid in the end. I served both olive oil and cheese for people who wanted to doctor the soup, but both those who did and those who didn’t agreed that it was excellent either way.

I didn’t get a photo of the soup plated. Frankly, it turns a pretty unappetizing brown-green. Do not be fooled. Just eat it. No one will even notice, because it tastes so fabulous! I bet you could chop a bit of parsley to sprinkle across at the very end to up the pure green quotient, but you don’t need it for taste, that’s for sure.


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