Keep the winter chills at bay with this recipe for a soup we enjoyed while researching our cook book ‘Venice – Recipes Lost and Found’ . It’s a very satisfying, tasty way of supplying some much needed ‘central heating’ on days when not even the dog wants to go outside.
Zuppa di Orzo, Castagne e Pancetta
Bacon, Chestnut and Barley soup
Barley and chestnuts were staple winter foods at one time as they could be kept for months, often saving people from famine across Europe. Both, in my opinion, need a bit of a kick with flavour. In the Veneto you would be able to add the end of a leg of prosciutto but we have replaced that with bacon. With the addition of a parmesan rind this becomes a flavourful, creamy, risotto-like soup that will bring comfort on the chilliest of days.
1 quantity soffritto (see below)
15 g (1/2 oz) butter
3 tablespoons good quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
5 rashers (slices) streaky unsmoked bacon, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
1 long sprig rosemary
fine salt and freshly ground black pepper
1.5 litres (3 pints 3 fl oz) chicken, ham or vegetable stock (bouillon) (page 00)
1 parmesan rind
100 g (31/2 oz) cooked chestnuts
150 g (5 oz) pearl barley
25 g (1 oz) parmesan, finely grated
Heat the butter and oil over a medium heat in a large heavy-based saucepan and fry the bacon, soffritto, garlic, bay leaf, rosemary and seasoning for 5–10 minutes until the vegetables start to soften and become translucent.
Add the stock and parmesan rind to the pan, increase the heat and bring to the boil, stirring through. Crumble in half of the chestnuts and add the pearl barley. When the soup is sputtering reduce the heat to a simmer so that is bubbles gently. Stir every now and again for around 25 minutes or until the barley is soft adding more stock or hot water if necessary. Serve in warm bowls scattered with the remaining crumbled chestnuts, a swirl of oil, a little black pepper and the parmesan.
Basic Soffritto recipe
Also known as battuto, this is the essential base for Italian stews and soups, some sauces and ragù. The recipe varies by region, but most versions contain the ‘holy trinity’ of Italian vegetables: celery, onion and carrot. In summer, make batches to freeze for winter, including some without garlic.
150g carrot (about 2-3)
150g celery (2-3 sticks)
150g onions (red or white)
150ml olive oil
2 garlic cloves (optional)
Salt and pepper
2 large sprigs of rosemary and/or thyme
2 bay leaves
Finely chop the ingredients by hand or in a food processor. It is best to cut them separately if you are using a machine as the carrots need longer than the celery and onion.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-hot heat. Add the garlic, if using, and season with salt and pepper. Fry for 1 minute before adding the remaining ingredients. Keep frying, stirring frequently, for 15–20 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. The colours will have changed from bright and sharp to soft and golden. Use straight away or freeze
‘Venice – Recipes Lost and Found’ is published by Hardie Grant with photography by Helen Cathcart. Buy signed copies here.