Today is Saint Joseph’s day and in northern and central Italy we traditionally eat rice fritters. I bought some this morning at the bar-pasticcieria in Ponte a Serraglio. I couldn’t resist taking a couple of bites before I got home to take the photo. Every family has its secret recipe. These are light and airy, but the ones Eugenia made for the wild boar dinner Saturday night were lusciously creamy inside.
The celebration of Saint Joseph’s day is also tied to a pagan tradition allied to the annual agricultural cycle. It was the day of bonfires when all the dead remains of the previous year’s harvest were cleared up and destroyed in huge fires that burned throughout the night as a rite of purification and to welcome the spring. In the 20th century it was designated as fathers’ day and children made presents for their fathers.
What more could possibly be said about soup after my three blogs in 2010 about the Slow Food Lucchese e Compitese soup tournament (see links below)? Lots, judging by the animated discussions at the last elimination round last Thursday.
First, this isn’t a tournament in which any old liquid served in a bowl can be submitted to the judges (who are us, the public). It’s not the case that one cook makes cream of mushroom and another leek and potato. This is a competition only for ‘zuppa alla frantoiana’. The nearest we get to it in English is ‘minestrone’. But this doesn’t mean that every entry is the same. Quite the reverse. Every entry is startlingly different from the others.
There is general agreement on the four basic ingredients:
After that, it’s every cook on her or his own. The variations are numerous and depend on the family recipe — mamma’s or nonna’s or mother-in-law’s.
At the delightful rustic restaurant A’ Palazzo (Brancoli), the diners I could hear from my table seemed to have very refined palettes. One woman identified marjoram, perhaps too much, in one sample. Another definitely too much thyme. A big argument about fennel (seed and fresh). Should there be any? No, said some. Definitely, said others, but if there’s too much it covers the other flavours. A couple of my bugbears are no whole beans and too much bread (this isn’t pappa al pomodoro, after all).
The winner? Manuela Girelli of the Brancoli. I might have been even prouder than her husband — notice his big grin because it’s his mother’s recipe. Her zuppa tasted very similar to the one I make. Maybe I should enter next year’s tournament?
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