Although there are many variations in the dishes served at St Joseph’s altar, most of them include legumes and bread. Since it has been so cold in the Northeast this winter, it seems appropriate to celebrate the spring equinox as in classic times. So let’s clear the pantry of last year’s harvest in the expectations of the new harvest to come.
This soul satisfying soup on a cold March day will really seem like a gift from heaven. The ingredients would change depending on what the fields and cupboards had to offer, so use the recipe as a guideline and feel free to substitute according to your larder. Use up whatever you might have for dried beans, adding whatever fresh greens that might be emerging in your market or field. Southern Italians would prefer either the new bitter dandelion or cultivated chicory. Count yourself blessed if you can find fresh borage shoots. Their slightly furry leaves are less bitter but still a good tonic. Spinach or Swiss Chard can be found most anywhere. In Sicily the soup would always have fresh wild fennel fronds. In our market the bulb fennel fronds do not add much flavor, so it’s best to add crushed fennel seeds to compensate. Try to add some dried chestnuts, which can often be found in an Italian grocery store.
- 1/2 lb dried shelled fava beans
- 1/4 lb lentils (preferably tiny from Pantelleria or Umbria)
- 1/4 lb dried Borlotti/cranberry beans
- 1/4 lb chickpeas
- 1/4 lb dried split peas
- 1/2 lb dried chestnuts
- 1 C. onion chopped or sliced
- 1 C. celery, chopped
- 1 C. carrot, chopped
- 2 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly crushed
- 4 dried tomatoes, chopped
- 2 lbs mixed spring greens - dandelion, spinach, borage, chicory, etc.
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil
Rinse and soak the beans and dried chestnuts. Place them in a large pot with enough water to cover by several inches. Let them soak overnight or at least 8 hours.
Drain the legumes and place in a large soup/earthenware pot with enough water to come at least 3 inches above the beans. Add the chopped vegetables, dried tomatoes and the crushed fennel seeds (not the greens). Over medium heat, bring to a simmer, then simmer gently, partially covered, for about 2 hours or until the largest beans are tender. Half way through cooking add enough salt to taste.
Wash the greens and chop them into fairly small pieces, add them to the soup. Simmer uncovered until the greens are tender. Add more water if necessary to thin to a consistency you like. It should be thick but still have some liquid. (It will need additional water if you reheat it.)
Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil or hot pepper oil.