I’ve written about zuppa alla frantoiana, a typical seasonal soup of Lucca, so many times that you’d think I’d be bored with it. But no. It’s the archetypal winter dish—a minestrone on a foundation of stale bread—and varies according the cook, his or her family tradition, the vegetables available in the orto (veg patch) and hedgerows, the quality of the bread and of this year’s olive oil. Every zuppa conforms to certain principles and yet each is unique.
Five years ago Slow Food Lucca Compitese Orti Lucchesi realised the qualities of zuppa were not so dissimilar to football teams (all teams play by the same rules, but each has its own characteristics) and organised the Disfida della Zuppa (soup tournament) composed of several rounds, with the winner of each round going through to the finals. The contestants range from home cooks to restaurant chefs. The jury is composed of us, the public, who come to taste, debate and judge. The 5th round of this year’s Disfida, at restaurant Il Rio di Vorno, went like this.
Judging with our eyes first, we see that each zuppa looks entirely different. We season the zuppe with generous drizzles of new season extra virgin olive oil from a nearby olive farm.
Number 2 aromatic, number 3 badly burnt. If you turn your back for a second, the bean puree that forms the basis of the zuppa sticks to the bottom of the pan.
You can tell what country you’re in without hearing the language, just look at the hands.
Each soup gets positive marks for intensity of aroma, intensity of flavour and complexity of flavour, and negative ones for too much salt, too little salt, too much acidity and burnt odour. We also give each an overall rating from 4 to 10. Nothing less than 4. I guess they don’t want anyone to feel too discouraged.
Polpetti of bacalà (salt cod), rustic puree of chick peas and stewed cabbage seasoned with a hint of wine vinegar.
Francesca made zuppa number 2, the one everyone at my table judged the best. She’ll go through to the finals. Brava Francesca!
The whole evening only costs €2o for Slow Food members and €23 for non-members, and that includes wine and coffee. What a bargain!
To read more about zuppa see Elegy to Zuppa, Soup put to the test, Souprize, Slow Food Disfida della Zuppa and over at Debra Kolkka’s blog Bagni di Lucca and Beyond, Who made the best soup?, and Serious Soup on Bella Bagni di Lucca.
Next round: 9 March at 20.00 at the Sala Parrocchiale, Capannori. See you there!