Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: A sunny -- and vegetarian -- soup from Abruzzo to brighten any day.
This is inspired by a soup from Abruzzo, a "minestra," which is traditionally made with diced potatoes, onion, carrot, and celery, along with some short pasta (or broken up spaghetti) in a saffron broth. This is a slightly more modern variation, where a simpler minestra is blended into a creamy, bright, golden soup.
Saffron makes a great partner for potatoes, lightly scenting and lending a sunny golden color to the otherwise muted tubers. They're commonly thrown together in a side dish of pan-cooked potato quarters, sometimes with onion, garlic, or fresh herbs added. This soup is essentially a blended version of that side dish.
Saffron is a unique and special spice that has been growing in Abruzzo since the Middle Ages; it now has the prestigious DOP (protected designation of origin) status when it comes from the province of Aquila (especially from Navelli). It always comes in threads, rather than powder (a sign of its good quality and provenance), and its particularly deep color and pungent aroma make it a favored spice in dishes from the region (such as this pasta with ricotta and saffron).
A delicate, elegant, yet simple soup, this would make a nice light meal on its own, perhaps with some croutons or crusty toasted bread. It goes well served with any seafood (or as a first course before a nice roast or some barbecued fish). Sometimes you may see this served with some large grilled shrimp or steamed mussels garnishing the top of the soup. You can also garnish it simply, with just a drizzle of good olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper.
And if you're wondering how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to saffron, make sure to check out this article.
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 1 small onion, chopped finely 1 clove garlic, chopped finely Pinch of dried chili About 4 medium potatoes (800 grams or 28 ounces), peeled and diced 3 cups (750 milliliters) or so of cold water Salt and pepper Pinch of dried saffron threads (about 1/10 gram) 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) or so of milk or extra water, if desired
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.