This ancient dish, acquacotta (literally, “cooked water” but also meaning “cooked in water”), is a tradition of southern Tuscany and Lazio, where the fields are filled with mounds of jagged-edged weeds and other wild vegetables.
The characteristic of this dish, at least alla Viterbese, the way they do it in Viterbo, is that the vegetables and aromatics are cooked entirely in water, not sizzled in olive oil. And in any case, the classic soffritto is usually forgone for just some garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled, that go straight into the water. To serve the acquacotta, the vegetables and accompanying broth is then spooned over a slice of dried or stale bread, which soaks up any liquid. The resulting dish should not be brothy at all, in fact, any liquid that remains in the bottom of the bowl should be removed, as it would interfere with the final touch – some potent extra virgin olive oil, drizzled over the top.
It's a wonderfully simple dish of clean flavours where the strong, bitter flavours of the wild chicory sing out in contrast to the creamy, mellow egg yolk and bitey, raw olive oil. If you can't get your hands on wild chicory -- the traditional must have ingredient for this dish -- try this with other wild greens or even your favourite regular greens. Try broccoli rabe (turnip tops), beet tops or anything else that is dark green. —Emiko
large bunches of wild chicory (see note for substitutions)
small potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
10 1/2 ounces
(300 grams) of fresh tomatoes, chopped
Water to cover
slices of stale bread from a good, dense, wood fired country loaf (or if fresh, dry out the slices in a low oven)
Extra-virgin olive oil
A handful of chopped, wild fennel and calamint (if unavailable, use fennel tops in place of the wild fennel and oregano, marjoram, or mint in place of the calamint)
Carefully wash the wild greens several times over or until all the dirt has been removed. If they are tough or large, you may need to blanch them first until tender. If they are young and small then just use them as they are.
Place the garlic cloves, potatoes, tomatoes, the wild greens and salt in a pot and add water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender.
Crack the eggs into the simmering soup and cover until the whites are cooked but the yolk still runny, a few minutes.
Remove from the heat, place a slice of bread in each shallow bowl and ladle the soup and egg over each slice of bread. Let rest a minute or two so that the bread can soak up the broth. Ideally, the bread should soak everything up and there should be no liquid in the bowl. If the bread hasn't soaked up enough, be sure to ladle over some extra broth from the pot. If there is any extra liquid present in the bowl, remove it with a spoon or kitchen paper.
Finish with a drizzle of very good olive oil and a generous handful of chopped wild fennel and calamint.
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.