Last Tuesday was a ‘bitterly’ cold winter’s day in the tropical north : 16 – 19 C. Actually, it was an upside down day with 19C being registered at 1am and 16C chilling the bones at 1pm.
In other words, a perfect soup day. This soup takes me back to my childhood and the smells of my nonna’s kitchen. A simple soup in some respects but full of flavour.
Later in my life, I made sense of this soup in a cultural and historical context. A hundred years ago in rural Europe, farmers cooked and ate by the seasons and learnt to make a meagre meal stretch further. Meat was not everyday fare and what little a family had, was always made to go a long way. My Catalan grandmother spoke of the daily vegetable soup and the 1 sardine, 10 to 12 cm long which would feed the family. The sardine was cut into three pieces: the man got the middle section, the woman got the head and the children took it in turns to eat the tail each day. To a child, “your day” must have been a little more than exciting.
The meat in my nonna’s soup is used to give a hearty flavour to the soup. Remove the meat, shred it and return it to the soup or remove it and assemble it as part of the piatto secondo: meat and salad. My mum says that sometimes nonna would mince the meat and make it into rissoles.
Similarly, the Catalans have an Escudella: a soup made with a pilota, a large meatball that is cooked within the soup and then removed and served separately.
This soup needs time.
Don’t rush it.
800g – 1 kg gravy beef or shin
1 stick celery, diced finely
1 tin tomatoes, diced
1 medium onion, diced finely
2 medium potatoes, grated
2 medium carrots, grated
2 – 3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup green beans
2 tablespoons rice
1/2 red onion finely diced
handful of parsley chopped
salt and pepper to taste
oil and vinegar to taste
In a large saucepan, place 6 – 8 cups of water. Bring to the boil and then add the meat. Boil for 5 minutes and skim the froth that comes to the surface of the water.
Add all the vegetables, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 2 1/2 – 3 hours. Skim any oil/fat that comes to the surface during this time. In the last 10 minutes, add the rice.
Remove beef from soup. Remove any threads of fat from the meat. Most will have melted during the cooking process but some outer layers need removing. With two forks separate the beef into its strands.
Return some of the meat to the soup and serve.
For second course, place beef in a bowl with onion, parsley, salt, pepper, oil and vinegar. Stir to allow meat to soak up the seasoning flavours. Serve the beef with a garden green salad.