Every Italian homemaker knows that soup is one of the secrets to stretching the food budget. Using leftovers, wilted produce or otherwise inedible bits of meat or bones, a thrifty cook can create a nutritious first course.
With the addition of some noodles, potatoes or grain, soup is often filling enough to serve as the main part of a meal.
The most important part of a soup is the broth that it is made with. Italian cooks from the home country would never consider using a powdered or canned broth as the basis for soup, right? Fortunately for both the wallet and one’s health, making homemade broth is very easy.
Saving raw or cooked bones, scraps and any leftover cooking juices from meat meals in a container in the freezer doesn’t take much time while cleaning up after a meal. Grouping poultry bones and meat bones in another is acceptable if there are not enough of each kind of bone to keep separately.
Pieces of vegetables trimmed during preparation and leftover vegetables can be put into another container in the freezer. Don’t forget pieces of the vegetable that you normally throw out. Corn cobs and onion peels are both good additions. Avoid vegetables in the cabbage and broccoli family as extended cooking will impart a bitter flavor to the final product.
Don’t be afraid to add salt, unless there is a medical reason to be avoiding the sodium. Good broth requires the addition of a bit of salt to taste right.
A Key Italian Ingredient… Broth
In general, you can not overcook broth. If time is of the essence, you can pressure cook the bones and vegetables with water for an hour or so. Simmering on the stove top will give similar results. The broth will be perfectly adequate and give you a good flavor.
If you are planning in advance, poultry broth can simmer gently for up to 24 hours for a nice Italian chicken soup. Beef, pork and lamb bones are able to cook for as long as three days. Splashing in a little bit of vinegar at the beginning of the cooking process will help the minerals in the bones and the proteins in the cartilage to dissolve into the broth, making it more nutrient dense.
Strain out the solids gently, but avoid squeezing out the last of the liquid to help keep the broth clear. Pour the broth into a container and chill for a few hours. Fat that rises to the surface will be firm and easy to remove. The remaining broth will be rich and clear and may have become firm from the presence of collagen. This is a sign of very nutritious broth, so don’t be concerned.
From Broth to Dishes
At this point, your broth can be turned into nearly any kind of Italian soup that you like. With the addition of pasta and beans, meat broth can be transformed into minestrone soup. Leftover minestrone soup can be recycled into ribollita with the addition of stale bread and vegetables.
Ciuppin is soup featuring an assortment of seafood, white wine, onions and garlic and thickened with stale bread. Seupa à la valpellinentze is a satisfying soup made with Savoy cabbage, ham and Fontina cheese with rye bread. Other soups thickened with bread include zuppa di pane and papa al pomodoro.
Other hearty soups use grains as thickeners. Orzetto has vegetables and barley and is flavored with smoked pork known as speck. Potatoes and barley are both used in Seupa de gri along with seasonal vegetables and salt pork.
Legumes are Great to Bulk up Your Italian Soups
Lentils and other legumes shouldn’t be overlooked when making soup. Virtù is a thick pasta and bean soup flavored with vegetables, pork and herbs. It was named after the seven young women who gathered up the seven required types of legumes, vegetables, meat and pasta and watched over it as it cooked for 48 hours. This soup is traditionally cooked in the spring to clean out the pantry of the leftover odds and ends.
You can try even a soup as simple as Cannellini Bean Soup as featured on this site. It uses basic Italian ingredients and fits any budget – as does Pasta Fagioli.
Despite the complex flavors of Italian soups, they are generally easy to make. Using homemade broth and fresh ingredients will make the soup more nutritious and less expensive than anything you will find in the supermarket.