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A soulful soup from the Italian pantry

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    A hearty bowl of Italian potato-pasta soup with greens, photographed in New York on Jan. 24. This dish is not precisely a soup, but a soupy concoction of potatoes and pasta, known throughout Italy as pasta e patate.

Some soups are delicate, light and refreshing, served as the prelude to a meal. Others, like this one, are hearty and nourishing meals in themselves. It is not precisely a soup, but a soupy concoction of potatoes and pasta, known throughout Italy as pasta e patate.

This is an example of the country’s bare-cupboard cuisine, la cucina povera, in which inexpensive basics are transformed with small jolts of flavor from aged cheese, dried chilies, herb pastes and the like. Thrifty but flavorful, its principal aim is to feed a family during times when funds are tight. (If no potatoes were in the pantry, you could make a similar soup with beans or lentils.)

Humble, but not spartan, many dishes from this tradition are also exceedingly delicious.

Here, you soften an onion in a hot pan with a generous glug of olive oil, then add chopped potatoes, salt, a garlic clove, a rosemary sprig and water. When the potatoes are done, a handful of pasta goes in, and when the pasta is al dente, you ladle this steaming, chunky marvel of a soup into bowls. Pass the grated pecorino and Parmigiano, a cruet of oil, the pepper mill and crushed red pepper.

That’s the bare-bones version. There are any number of regional variations, of course, and every cook is at liberty to customize according to whim. Some might add, as I have here, more vegetables, like celery and carrot; others might add tomato, a little or a lot; bacon or pancetta or ham; beef or chicken broth; or, as in my recipe, a large quantity of chopped kale.

Though the soup could be made from start to finish and served right away, you can make it several hours, or even a day, in advance. This allows for the flavors to meld and for the potatoes to break down a bit. But since you don’t want the pasta to be overcooked, cook it separately, and stir it in as a final step. Small, textured pasta shapes, like pennette, orecchiette or rigatoncini are the best choice. For potatoes, I like yellow-fleshed ones like Yukon or German Butterball, but russets will suffice.

As for the double-carbohydrate, starch-on-starch nature of this soup, I regard it as a satisfying win-win.

ITALIAN POTATO-PASTA SOUP WITH GREENS

By David Tanis

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced fennel or celery
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large thyme sprig
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 quarts (12 cups) chicken or vegetable broth or water
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 8 ounces kale or chard, stems removed, sliced into 1/2-inch ribbons (about 4 cups total)
  • 1/2 pound dried pennette, orecchiette or other small pasta
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary or marjoram, for garnish
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

In large, heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high. When it shimmers, add onion, carrot and fennel, stir, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until softened and golden, 5 to 10 minutes. Adjust heat to prevent browning.

Stir in bay leaf, thyme, garlic, paprika and tomato paste; cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add broth, potatoes and a large pinch salt. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to brisk simmer. Cook until potatoes are cooked through but still firm, 12 to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Stir in kale and pasta; simmer another 10 minutes, until greens are cooked and pasta is done. (Soup can be made up to this point, without the pasta, cooled and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Ladle soup into bowls; sprinkle with chopped rosemary and Parmesan. Drizzle each serving with a teaspoon of olive oil. Pass extra Parmesan at the table.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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