With weeks of winter stretching ahead of us, it is a great time to experiment with a wide variety of hearty soups to warm us up after our 18-hole round of golf, or hike along the scenic Carso trails.
Of course Italy has many regional soup specialties but in the FVG region, we are blessed to bask in the multi-ethnic melting pot that is MittleEurope. Pasta is to Italy as soup is to Mitteleurope, a territory which is not always well defined geographically, but exists more as a concept than a place and which generally includes north-eastern Italy, Slovenia, eastern Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria.
These are soups that eat like a meal, they are hearty and basically include most food groups.
Perhaps the best-known dish of Trieste is also a soup; Jota. It is prepared with sauerkraut, beans, potatoes and pork (usually smoked ribs or ham). The success of the dish depends primarily on the proper dosage of sauerkraut (referred to in Trieste as capuzzi garbi), which are essential but must be balanced wisely so as not to find yourself eating an unpleasant dish which could make the difference between a sublime jota and an inedible one.
Then there is the popular summer soup, traditionally served around Ferragosto, called Minestra de Bobici corn soup traditionally made with fresh picked corn (there is also a version called Formenton that uses a type of dried corn, Formenton 8-file that is an “ancient” genus of corn with only 8 rows(file) of kernels). Like most soups of the region, beans and potatoes make an appearance along with the addition of the ubiquitous ham or bits of pork.
Also popular is a local version of Split Pea Soup, Minestra di Bisi Spacai. I thought it might have been introduced by the Allies, but I’ve been told that here it had the name Bunkersuppe, as it was a staple meal of Austrian soldiers in the trenches. Very similar to what we know in the U.S., it’s a very tasty soup made with dried split peas (bisi) to which can be added, depending on taste, other ingredients such as ham, potatoes, broken noodles or rice.
Bean and Barley soup is basically a staple in every culture, but here it comes from nearby Slovenia, (although it is popular also in Croatia, Austria and Bavaria). It’s called Ričet and it’s a traditional, thick soup containing barley, beans, potatoes, carrots, parsley, celery, leeks, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. There is typically a substantial amount of cured pork in it. It is in essence a starchy dish, some say more similar to a risotto than a soup.
To check what other entries I might have missed, I asked members of a local cooking group on FB, Cossa Cusino Oggi (What I’m Cooking Today). While this inspired a hearty debate (Minestra vs Brodo –Chunky soups vs Broth soups) I will include those that inspired the most emotion and nostalgia as a good indicator of their worthiness to be part of this list.
One of these is Zuf, popular in different parts of the FVG region and is in fact known by different names Suf, Mesta or Pestarei meaning concoction or blend and is typically eaten for breakfast. Once simply served as a warm cornmeal polenta mixed with pumpkin puree and cold milk and sugar it has over time evolved into a more elevated and at times, savory dish. Newer versions offer the same basic ingredients plus butter, or butter and cheese, or butter, cheese and spices. In some cases beans are added and another, more modern version, is made covering the base ingredients with crunchy pancetta, red radicchio leaves, melted Montasio cheese (a local mild cow cheese) drizzled with a vinegar glaze.
Brodo Brustola’ basically means toasted soup. While some say this is the soup of the poor, it really was a war-time soup, when just about every ingredient was hard to find. The recipe consists of 2 tablespoons flour, 2 eggs, a liter of water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt. To make it you put the oil in a pot and add the flour and let it turn golden brown, then add the water and bring to a boil. Beat the eggs with the salt and then add to the pot and stir — That’s it. While simple, it is a recipe that still evokes warm childhood memories for many locals.
Gnocchi di Greis in Brodo is also a local specialty. Greis is the German word for Semolina and this is essentially a semolina dumpling in chicken broth.
Minestra de Orzo e Brovada is a hearty soup using orzo, pork rinds and a local specialty Brovada or turnips. The turnips are julienned and then and macerated with crushed grape stems and left to ferment in the leftover liquids from the winemaking processes. Then they are braised in in a heavy pot, low and slow, with some olive oil, bay leaves and pork rinds — luckily you can buy ready-made brovada in order to make your soup. Brovada is also the star of another local dish, Brovada e Musetto, which is a cold-weather favorite.
Here are some links to these recipes in English: