I used to be a chef in an Italian restaurant here in Richmond, London. I loved it, I was in my element cooking for an Italian family and learning everyday about the food and the country I love. Also the head chef there was amazing. She hated just about everyone at the restaurant but for some reason quite liked me so we got on great and she taught me everything I know about cooking. I worked like a dog but grew in ability in no time and hated the fact that I became too ill to work and had to give it all up. We always welcomed this time of year with gusto as the first 3-4 months of any year are a terrible time to be a chef. You work nearly constantly in darkness and nothing good grows in the ground either. All the food at that time of year is still heavy and left over from the deep winter months and there is nothing to look forward too. But then April and May arrive and Spring really appears and everything starts to grow and all the fresh vegetables come through the door. The evenings and mornings are lighter and all the spirits in the kitchen were lifted by the arrival of a lighter menu and fresher foods.
This soup could also be called ‘Zuppa Verde’ but calling something healthy and appetizing ‘GREEN’ doesn’t quite sit well in the mind or stomach so we used to call it ‘Zuppa Primavera’ or ‘Spring Soup”. Basically the philosophy is simple. If it is green and spring-like put it in the soup. If it’s not then don’t. Sometimes things become unavailable so the recipe doesn’t stay the same always but that doesn’t matter as it is a soup to celebrate spring not to win you Michelin stars. I will come looking different everytime in different textures and shades of green depending on what you use.
I’m not going to write about recipes and quantities. Use your brain, as a chef I don’t think I ever measured anything outside of the pastry section so I am definitely not going to say you need 2 sticks of celery instead of 3. Just use what you buy. If you cook every day you tend to cook with your senses and you begin to know when something is cooked right by tasting it, seeing it and touching it. It saddens me so much to see people staring at the pages of cookbooks instead of staring at the pot where the food is cooking and sticking thermometers into bits of meat to see if it is really ready. Also, its just a soup you can’t fuck it up.
You might ask what the hell this has to do with cycling? However its all to do with cycling as it’s mega healthy and has nearly every sort of mineral and vitamin you can get into you. It has no butter and the only fat it has is Olive Oil which is the juice of life so use loads of it. Unfortunately what all those TV chefs say about Olive Oil is true. The more you spend the better it is I’m afraid in this country. The best thing to do is find an actual Italian deli and ask them what they use. Supermarket own brand stuff is usually crap and all that shit about only using Extra Virgin Oil for drizzling is in this case crap also. You want to taste all the peppery goodness and it is not cooked long enough to ruin the flavour so get your money out and buy something good. Be careful though as there are a lot of posh olive oils which are shit too. The best way to get a good one is ask. Go to an Italian Restaurant and ask what they use.
Today I have brought Leeks, Celery, Spring Onions, Watercress, Rocket, Spinach, Zucchini, Parsley, Basil, Garden Peas, Pesto (my secret tip, it makes all soup taste lush), Baby Spring Greens, Green Lentils and lots and lots of Garlic which isn’t strictly green but its is spring Fresh Garlic and it is so good for us it must go in everything we eat. There’s also an Onion which isn’t green either but they go into everything, oh and I’ve brought some Cannellini Beans too but since I’m eating the stuff I can put whatever I like in it. Also the beans give it a bit more body and texture.
First I take everything and wash it a lot. I find this important firstly because if you stuff is fresh it should still be covered in mud and also more importantly I can’t afford fancy organic food in this country only the really rich can! My food therefore might have some bad shit on it. Until this country sorts its life out I’ll still be shopping in cheap supermarkets and market stalls. I would love to buy organic and do when I can but its a fetish of the middle classes in this country unlike Italy which in my book is just wrong.
After you have politically washed your stuff chop the base vegetables which are the onions, celery, leeks and garlic and lightly fry them. In Italy this is called a SOFFRITO and is the base of just about everything really. Do this slowly and on a low heat for about 20 minutes in Olive Oil that way the taste of all these vegetables will really come out good and give you a powerful flavour base.
Then add all the heavier leaves followed by the lighter vegetables and finally the lighter leaves, only slightly sweat these down before adding enough water or stock to cover them good.
Bring it to the boil and skim off any scum that might appear on the top as this is not wanted at all. After about 10 minutes of letting it all cook on a low bubble add half of the Beans then take it off the heat and blend it all with a magic stick or in a blender. The Beans will thicken it up nicely, I don’t think I ever seen a watery Italian soup they are for the French. After it is blended add the rest of the Beans, the Peas and and the Lentils and anything else you want to add or have brought to go in it. Let these cook for however long they take because to be honest I don’t know as I very rarely buy dried versions of these things as tinned ones, fresh when you can get them and even frozen ones are just as nice in my book. I give this bit about 20 minutes to sit together to pick up the flavours in which time I clean the kitchen.
A clean kitchen is a PRO kitchen kids.
Right at the end of the 20 minutes stir in the Pesto and chop any fresh herbs you have brought to go in the soup. Don’t add light herbs like Basil and Parsley to the cooking stages as the go brown and slimy. These herbs are there for their light beautiful smells.
That’s it all done. Like most things that cook in a pot they taste better if you leave them for a couple of hours. I tend to make enough of this for a week so it just gets better and better. Oh and I forgot… don’t forget to add salt and pepper. A little at a time and throughout the cooking stages and then once at the end. Bunging seasoning in all at once at the end isn’t the best way to cook.