Better Than the Winter Olympics

I always get excited about the winter Slow Food Soup Tournament. The 2014 dates of the Disfida della Zuppa have just been announced. The displays of skill of the competing zuppisti are a wonder and will satisfy the mid-winter yearnings of any hungry foodie. Compare it to eating the Ladies’ Moguls Freestyle Skiing.


I’ve written about zuppa in several blogs (if you’d like to read more, see below for the links), so this time I’m just going to tell you briefly what zuppa is and translate the email I received this morning soliciting zuppisti to enter the Tournament.

Bowl of zuppa

Zuppa derives from the 16th-century ‘suppa’ which means ‘a slice of bread impregnated with liquid’, a sort of crouton. The Lucchese zuppa alla frantoiana, the protagonist of the Tournament, supposedly originated at olive presses (frantoio means olive press). After you pressed your olives, you took your new oil to the fireplace in the frantoio where a pot of soup was simmering over the flames. The press’s owner put a crust of bread in a bowl, ladled the zuppa over it and you seasoned it with a drizzle of your oil. Since olives were pressed between November and January, the ingredients were winter vegetables. (Nowadays the fashion is for bitterer, more piquant oil and many olives are pressed in the second half of October before they’re completely ripe.)

olio di oliva extra virgine

Your new extra virgin olive oil pouring out of the press

sitting by fire at frantoio

Alas, no zuppa hanging over the fire at this frantoio

This year there will be 11 matches before the semi-finals and the ‘Cup Final’. Anyone who makes zuppa can compete, whether mamma, son, aunt or professional chef.

zuppa contestants

Zuppisti vary: some are shy and others are flamboyant

Experienced soup makers

The winner (2nd from left) made her mother-in-law's recipe (husband, far left)

The philosophy behind zuppa is deep and produces endless discussions at the matches. What are the essential ingredients? At past tournaments the consensus has been: dried beans, olive oil, bread and cavolo nero. In the realms of ‘freestyle’, you can add wild edible herbs, seasonal vegetables, whatever your family recipe includes or whatever takes your fancy. What’s not allowed? Unseasonal vegetables like zucchini.

red beans of lucca

Red beans of Lucca are local and especially tasty

fagiolo scritto di lucca

The fagiolo scritto di Lucca is also excellent for zuppa

black cabbage

Cavolo nero is a must

not zucchini

Uh oh, summer veg

In the light of this, Slow Food’s call for contestants is poetic and provocative:

Non è mai troppo tardi per partecipare alla disfida ed entrare nel’albo ufficiale degli zuppisti lucchesi.

Portate la ricetta della nonna, della zia, della trisavola, la vostra. Con erbi, senza erbi, con pane, senza pane, con cipolla fresca, senza cipolla fresca, ne abbiamo vite tante, ma non ancora tutte. La ricetta della zuppa è per definizione una ricetta che non esiste, se non nell’esperienza di chi la fa e ne custodisce i sapori, i profumi, gli aromi, i ricordi.

Which means:

It’s never too late to participate in the tournament and enter the official annals of Lucca soup makers.

Bring the recipe of your grandmother, your aunt, your great-great grandmother, your own. With herbs, without herbs, with bread, without bread, with fresh onion, without fresh onion, we’ve nourished ourselves with many, but not yet all. The recipe for zuppa is by definition a recipe that doesn’t exist except in the experiences of those who make it and preserve the flavours, the fragrance, the aromas and the memories.

The jury is us the public, so if you’re near Lucca between now and the end of March and want a truly Slow Italian experience, contact me at and I’ll book you in for the date of your choice. But hurry, the competitors are world class and the games sell out quickly.

Popular soup tournament

Book your tickets while there are still places left

Dates of zuppa matches

13 February: Ristorante pizzeria “i Diavoletti” di Camigliano, 18 February: Sala parrocchiale di Capannori, 21 February: Rio di Vorno, 26 February: Antica e Premiata tintoria Verciani – il Mecenate a Lucca, 28 February: Osteria  da mi pa’, 1 March: Aquilea, 7 March: Osteria storica morianese da Pio, 8 March: Agriturismo Alle Camelie, 14 March: Sala parrocchiale di Carignano per il gruppo Equinozio, 21 March: Rio di Vorno per i Gruppi GAS Lucca Pisa, date to be announced: Pecora Nera

Links to my other zuppa blogs: Soup TournamentElegy to SoupSoup Put to the Test, Souprize, Slow Food Disfida della Zuppa or Soup Tournament, Another Zuppa

4 thoughts on “Better Than the Winter Olympics

  1. Love made edible. I love the rules about seasonal veg and what’s in and what’s out…. Just another fabulous post Heather. Grazie e Buon appetito! x

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