Publication or use of pictures, recipes, articles, or any other material form my Web site, on or off-line without written permission from the author is prohibited. If you would like to use my articles on your Web site or in your publication, contact me for details. Avoid infringing copyright law and its consequences: read the article 7 Online Copyright Myths by Judith Kallos
What a revolution boiling must have been! Tougher grains, roots, and many more vegetables became edible. All the remaining nourishment and flavor could be extracted from animal bones, including the highly caloric marrow. Boiling also opened a new array of possibilities. New sensational tastes and more sophisticated preparations started appearing. Grain can make a soup thicker, oil bearing seed can enrich the flavor, and many different ingredients added to the pot change the final taste. Different combinations of meat with vegetables and herbs created the first “dishes.” Later, porridge-like preparations started appearing. The Romans acquired the practice of making these dishes, called puls, from the Etruscans. A modern dish derived from puls is polenta, still popular today in northern Italy. During the Middle Ages, soup must have been the most common way of cooking. In times of scarcity, nothing helps utilize the few edible resources available to a hungry family better than a soup. In richer households, soups or brodetti (brodo = broth) were made. The solids (meat or vegetables), when boiled, were either picked up with sticks, knives, or bare fingers, or sometimes were served separately from the liquid (broth) that was drunk directly from the bowl. Later, during the Renaissance, soups started to be served as an introduction to meals or associated with main courses. In addition, the introduction of the spoon allowed soups to become more sophisticated and complex. The word “suppa” (soup, soupe, sop, sopa, sopen, zuppa) originates from a Frankish word (the Franks were the most powerful of the Germanic tribes who came to inhabit the former Roman provinces of Gaul, and who eventually became the French). In the Italian language, “suppa” came to refer specifically to a dish of bread soaked in cooking broth. In fact the word “inzuppare” means to dip bread or cookies into a liquid (sop). On the other hand, in Italian, all soups are called minestra,from the Latin word minestrare (meaning to serve dishes to the table). In Italy, there are light soups, mainly based on broth, generally served at the beginning of the dinner, or rustic chowder-like minestre that are thick and satisfying with added pasta or rice. The rice used for soups is the ever-present Carnaroli. It is Italian large grain rice that cooks evenly without becoming too soft. The pasta used in soups can be fresh pasta cut in small squares (quadrucci), larger irregular pieces (maltagliati – badly cut), or the thin capellini (angel hair). If dry pasta is used instead, the pasta could be as small as the size of a rice grain (peperini or stelline), small elbows or tubes, or even just spaghetti cut in short pieces. Rice, grains, and pasta in soups must be cooked rigorously al dente, thoroughly cooked but still firm to the bite. Among light soups we can mention the famous Tortellini in Brodo from Bologna. It is a very sophisticated dish made of little rings of pasta filled with an aromatic mix of meats and boiled in meat broth. In Rome, we can find Stracciatella. The broth is brought to a boiling temperature and a mix of egg and grated parmigiano cheese is slowly poured into the pasta, forming small “rugs.” Italian broth is made from beef or a mix of meats (beef, beef bones, chicken, and turkey), boiled together with vegetables (carrot, celery, tomato, potato, parsley, peppercorns, and cloves), and finally degreased and filtered to remove all the residues.
Il mangiafagioli (The Beans Eater), Annibale Carracci, 1583-84, Galleria Colonna, Roma.
In Venice, we can find a very special soup called Risi e Bisi (Rice and Peas). The Venetians will tell you that this dish is neither a risotto nor a soup, since this soup-like dish is served in a creamy consistency.
Soup: Say the name and a steaming bowl comes to mind. However, when the warm season approaches, not many are in the mood for a sweaty session in front of a sweltering bowl. Before I start my little dissertation, I want to reassure everyone that most of Italian soups are as good boiling hot as they are lukewarm.
Now that everyone is relaxed, I will continue saying that soups are one of the oldest culinary preparations of mankind. The oldest way of cooking must be roasting. It is very easy to imagine how primitive men, as soon as they took control of fire, learned how to use the simple direct heat of the flame to cook foodstuff. Soup had a more sophisticated evolution. The origin of soup is connected with the creation of pottery and the invention of containers that could hold cooking liquid on the fire without breaking. This technique was available in Mediterranean areas around 5000 B.C.