Spring has Sprung!
Like many kids, I grew up with a clear distaste for a good number of vegetables and just like many kids, I made it beautifully through adolescence even without them. Asparagus and fava beans, for example, were just two at the top of my list for dislikes followed by zucchini, cauliflower, string beans… and I could go on. One of the main reasons why I did not like them was that my mother cooked them until completely disintegrated. Watery, mushy and tasteless was the result. This was, and unfortunately still is, a common way of cooking veggies in Italy, even in restaurants, unfortunately. It wasn’t until I learned to cook them properly that I began to like their taste, texture and versatility. Needless to say, nobody in the house ever appreciated the way I cooked them. “This zucchini are so raw, look! I can not even cut them with a knife” my grandma would complain. Italian drama always hits every aspect of life without exemption for the culinary arts. Soups during the Winter are quite the comfort food, a must for Italian households. Although the choice of seasonal vegetables during this season is limited and surely missing that exotic appeal, the final result is in the bowl! For me, after a long cold day, nothing compares to a warm cozy soup, maybe savoring it while sitting in front of a crackling fire. When Spring comes, however, the music changes completely. The bold flavors of Winter soups give way to lighter and more delicate versions. For some weird coincidence, my friend Aurelio Barattini (Chef Owner of the famous Antica Locanda di Sesto – Lucca) and I make Garmugia soup at the same exact time every year. Great minds think alike, isn’t that what they say? None of us ever wins as we cross the finish line together. Yesterday I made Garmugia and forgot to take a picture of the final result. Don’t we all live our lives thru a lens these days? Today, a picture of the soup shows up on Aurelio’s Instagram page! Well, apparently he made Garmugia as well, but unlike me, he remembered to take a picture, which I am publishing above. Ball in your court Aurelio! The rich town of Lucca is where Garmugia originated from, way back in the 1600s. It was not a recipe accessible to everyone as meat was too expensive and rarely available at that time, therefore it became a nourishing dish that only the wealthy people and the nobles could afford and enjoy. I like to define this recipe as a pop up soup since it can be made only when all the vegetables called in the list of ingredients show up at the same time. A green coincidence that lasts only for a handful of weeks between mid April and the beginning of May. Skip one week and forget to taste this delicacy. Oh sure, you can cheat and buy everything at the local supermarket. Trust me, you will make something totally different as nothing beats the herbaceous, seasonal flavor of vegetables. Not to mention that the magical feeling known as l’attesa (the wait) will be missing. The authentic Garmugia is probably the only Tuscan soup that needs to be “planned” ahead, maybe with a little reminder on the calendar! A true celebration of Spring with its tender and sweet sprouts. Asparagus, artichokes, peas, fava beans and spring onions meet in a soup pot with a little ground veal or beef, rigatino (how pancetta is called in Lucca) and a delicious meat broth, generously ladled in deep bowls and topped with fried bread crostini. The soup gets served with a nice drizzle of extra virgin olive oil from Lucca. Not a peasant style soup by any means.
When I was researching this soup for my books, I found many versions of it, and I am not speaking of looking through the internet. Thirty some years ago, I used to spend my days at the library researching recipes and their history, including the origins of Garmugia. So many versions, they all called for the same ingredients but in very different proportions. There are no absolutes in cooking, this I know, plus every family adopts different interpretations. Finally, in that multiverse of recipes, I found one that made all the sense in the world for me as it involved using the pea pods as well, which give this soup an incredible deep, rich flavor and a unique creamy texture. Spring adds new life and new beauty to everything, especially in a soup like Garmugia and it is worth l’attesa, the wait. And every season, when I make this soup, I know that Spring has officially Sprung!
serves 4 to 6
For the beef broth
1 large carrot, peeled
1 stalk of celery with leaves
1 large white onion
3 leaves of basil
Salt to taste
1 lb stew beef ( such as chuck or flank steak)
A couple of meaty beef bones
Place all the ingredients in a large soup pot and cover them with at least 2 inches of water. Cover with a lid and simmer for 2 hours. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and set aside. Skim the excess fat.
For the soup
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
6 white spring onions, tops discarded, finely sliced
4 oz finely diced pancetta
4 oz ground veal or beef
4 oz freshly shelled fava beans
4 oz freshly shelled peas, pods reserved
4 oz artichokes hearts, finely sliced or quartered if you prefer
4 oz fresh asparagus tips
1 qt broth
½ cup pea pod cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Stale bread, toasted and diced or fried diced bread crostini
Grated sharp pecorino cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano, optional
Extra virgin olive oil for garnish
For the pea pod cream
In a small pot pour 1 cup of water, add the empty pods, cover with a lid and cook until vey soft. Puree and set aside.
Making the soup
In a large soup pot, place oil, onions and pancetta and cook on a low heat util onions are translucent.
Add the ground meat, increase the heat and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring very frequently.
Stir in the fava beans, the peas and the artichoke hearts and lower the heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring very often, then add 1 qt of hot broth and the pea pod cream. Cover and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Time for the asparagus tips to meet with the soup. Add the tips to the rest of the ingredients, stir and cover again. Cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
If you opted for toasted bread, then arrange it in the bottom of each bowl. Ladle the hot soup on top, dust with cheese (optional) and drizzle with the oil. Otherwise, serve the soup with crostini on top.