Stepping back into my vegetable garden after three months away, I’m immediately overcome with horticulture shock. It’s not only a sense of disorientation and sadness over neglect, but a looming frustration that the work ahead might be too difficult. The cavolo nero plants are now treelike, with thick grey trunks and yellow flowers waving in the breeze high above my head. The bees are happy. Mizuna lettuces resemble a triffid forest, delicately frilled in maroon and topped with more yellow flowers. The coriander, endive, parsley and chicory follow on their march towards the sky. There are weeds galore, some trying to smother the garlic, requiring gentle hand pulling so as not to disturb the still emerging bulbs of our precious annual crop. Most weeds are valuable additions to the compost bin: they might not be edible, but many have sought out valuable trace elements in the soil. Those in flower are drowned. Beds full of broad beans support each other like good friends, their black eyes winking with promise, roots setting nitrogen in the soil.
Once the borders are clipped, the pathways revealed, the beds pulled into shape, the snow peas supported and tied, and edible greens harvested for pies and soups, I can see my way forward. My vegetable patch, my precious orto, is a labour of love, it’s a statement about the value of fresh food, and it’s an act of defiance against the capitalist diet.
Ingredients for a Garden Soup. Minestra dell’Orto
- 1/2 kilo fresh borlotti beans, podded or substitute dried borlotti if fresh are unavailable.
- 3 cloves garlic, 2 finely chopped,
- fresh rosemary branch
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons EV olive oil
- 4 large silver beet leaves, finely shredded, or more if small
- 3 handfuls big pasta, such as mezzi rigatoni
- homemade vegetable stock ( ingredients listed separately in method )
- salt, pepper to taste
Steps for a tasty spring soup
- Make a vegetable stock from chopped carrots, onion, celery,bay leaves, parsley stalks, mushroom stalks. Cook for 30 -45 minutes.
- Pod the borlotti beans, add to a pot, with one whole garlic clove and one small rosemary branch. Cover with water, bring to the boil, lower heat and cook till beans are soft and liquid is brown and thick, around 30- 45 minutes. If using dried beans, soak overnight, then cook until soft. Time will vary depending on the age of the beans.
- Make a soffritto with one chopped onion, two chopped garlic, chopped celery in the olive oil. Add a little dried chilli and more finely chopped rosemary to the mix if you like. Cook on gentle heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened but not coloured.
- Add the silverbeet ( chard) and toss around for a minute or so to coat in oil. Then add the cooked beans with some of the cooking water. Add stock, enough to well cover the beans and silver beet. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and cook for five minutes or until the greens have softened. Add salt.
- Add the pasta, making sure there is enough liquid in the pan, and cook until the pasta is al dente.
Serve topped with a drizzle of good olive oil, grated parmigiano reggiano and crusty bread.
Over lunch yesterday, I came across a new Italian expression, Risotto All’Onda. At the time, I was serving a classic Marcella Hazan rice soup, or rather a minestra which, to be truthful, was more like a wet risotto. A soup or a wet risotto, I commented, knowing that this distinction is not particularly relevant to those from the Veneto region in Italy. Alberto, a visitor from Lombardy in Italy, then related the story of his prozia, or great-aunt, who uses her brodo (stock) rather liberally when making risotto, earning the comment ‘all’onda!!!’ in a disparaging way from her husband, who had a preference for a drier risotto. Drier risotto is the preferred style in Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna. It has a stickier texture and can be plated rather than served in a bowl. Alberto’s family continues to describe a wet risotto in this way, to recall their late prozio’s reaction to wet risotto, risotto’all’onda!!
As it turns out, risotto all’ onda is a common enough term for Venetian style risotto, ‘all’onda‘ meaning that the finished product should ripple like the ocean current, yet maintain its classically creamy consistency. It should be liquid enough to make it pourable. Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice are the preferred varieties for a wet style risotto: also using smaller pan when cooking helps to maintain the moisture.
The following recipe is an adaptation of Marcella Hazan’s Minestra di Sedano e Riso or rice and celery soup, from the Classic Italian Cookbook, 1980. I have replaced the celery with zucchini, given the continuing summer glut. The method of this soup is rather interesting, with half the zucchini pureed, adding a lovely green cremoso texture to this minestra/soup/risotto.
Minestra di Zucchini e Riso- Zucchini and Rice Soup.
- 2-3 small zucchini, diced
- 6 tablespoons EV Olive Oil
- half small onion, finely chopped
- 25 g butter
- 200g rice, preferably Carnaroli or Vialone Nano
- 500 ml of stock or one stock cube dissolved in the same quantity of water
- 3 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley.
- Wash the zucchini, finely dice,. Put the zucchini, olive oil and salt in a heavy base saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a steady simmer, cover, and cook until the zucchini is tender. Turn off the heat.
- Put the chopped onion in a heavy based saucepan with the butter and saute over medium heat until pale gold but not browned.
- Add half the zucchini to the saucepan with the onion, using a slotted spoon. Saute for two or three minutes, stirring, the add the rice and stir it until well coated. Add all the broth.
- Puree the rest of the zucchini, including all its cooking liquid, with a stick blender. Add this puree to the saucepan containing the rice.
- Bring to a steady simmer, cover, and cook until the rice is tender but firm to the bite, around 15- 20 minutes. Watch and check that it doesn’t catch as some rice absorbs stock too quickly- you may need to add a little more to make it ‘all’onda’.
- Stir in the grated cheese, turn off the heat, add the parsley and mix. Serve at once! This dish should be eaten immediately before it turns too soft. Make it only just before you are ready to eat!
I’m with Great Aunt Carla when it comes to risotto- I love it ‘all’onda’, nice and wet, rippling with little currents from the sea of broth.