Well! It's been quite a few weeks, hasn't it? Markets are crashing, our people in Washington and on Wall Street have crazed looks in their eyes, political campaigns are turning unbelievably ugly, and it's all I can do from crawling under the covers and screaming "time out!" It's the crazy season alright, suffused with fear and desperation and anger and shock. Couldn't we all use a bowl of hot soup?
After all, one bright spot in these days is that we are finally, thrillingly, in soup territory. Yes, I'm still nursing a tiny grudge towards the final days of warm weather that seem to have skipped out so eagerly, and I'm hanging on with white knuckles to the last of the blood-red tomatoes I bought at the farmer's market two weeks ago. But mostly I just want to cut coupons, turn the stove down low, and eat soup.
Who better to inaugurate the autumn soup season than Russ Parsons? After all, no one keeps us better fed. And it has been, if my research is correct, a whopping eleven months since I made one of his recipes. (Eleven months. How is that possible? It simply can't be. Russ! Forgive me!) High time, then, to get cracking again. This time with a homey, homely, Italianate minestra that draws its flavor from a few aromatic vegetables, some pungent greens, and a bit of rosemary.
This soup is simple and soothing, and best of all, cheap. It keeps well in the freezer and stretches well, too. It's not very fancy, there's not even chicken broth. But the toasted bread that softens and swells in the soup and the richness of the Parmigiano give it a little luster, dressing up the plain Jane vegetables that gave up their essence to the flavor of the soup.
I twisted in a few grinds of hot red pepper flakes for some added warmth, and next time I might rub the toasts gently with raw garlic before dousing them with soup. And instead of grating the cheese into the soup, I'll definitely plop one of my reserved Parmigiano rinds in at the beginning of the simmer and let it ooze out all its flavor.
Make yourself a bowl of this, turn off the television and the internet, throw away the newspaper with its jarring graphs and large headlines, and try to think about other things: the promise of apple-picking in a few weeks, the giggle of the baby living next door, the color of the leaves on the tree across the street. We'll get through this, too. We will. We will.
Soup with Winter Greens and Chickpeas
Serves 4 to 6
1/4 cup olive oil
2 carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 onion, diced
1 turnip, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound chopped mixed greens (mustard, kale, turnip, etc.)
1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary
1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or more, to taste plus additional to pass at the table
16 slices baguette, toasted
Freshly ground pepper (I used red pepper flakes)
1. In a heavy soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion and turnip, cover and cook until they have softened and become aromatic, about 20 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 or 3 minutes.
2. Add the mixed greens, a big handful at a time, stirring and giving them time to soften and shrink before adding the next handful.
3. When all of the greens have cooked, add 8 cups of water, one-half teaspoon salt, the rosemary and chickpeas. If you have a rind of Parmesan cheese lurking in your freezer, add it now. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat; cover and lower the flame to maintain a simmer. Cook until the broth is deeply flavored, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
4. When ready to serve, stir in one-third cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (taste and see if the rind did its job - you can eschew the grated cheese here, if you like) and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange two toast slices (rubbed with garlic) in the bottom of each warm soup bowl and ladle the soup over the top. Sprinkle with more cheese to taste. Serve immediately, passing a bowl of cheese to be added at the table.