Zuppa is the Italian name for soup made with a mixture of vegetables, cooked in broth. The word zuppa can also describe any general mix-up of things outside the soup bowl or the kitchen for that matter . . . such as a chaotic meeting or a confusing conversation for example . . . It is derived from the word inzuppare which literally translates as to drench or to soak.
Now back to the story of soup. The wonderful thing about zuppa is that its composition is a free-for-all for individualists. A limitless possibility of ingredient combinations are open to interpretation, depending on the cook’s mood and the availability that comes with the season.
That being said, autumn is the perfect time to make a simple zuppa. There are a handful of essentials to every pot I make, namely: a few chunky crumbling potatoes, floating in a broth made with some caramelized onion, carrot and rosemary. I also generally add some fresh green leaves and let them wilt just before sitting down at the table . . .
Below you will find my favorite recipe guideline, but please feel free to substitute or elaborate!
- one white onion . about 150 grams
- two carrots . about 150-200 grams
- four to six sprigs of flat leaf parsley
- two bay leaves
- the leaves of one sprig of rosemary (or sage if you like)
- 75 ml extra virgin olive oil
- one teaspoon of sea salt
- two large potatoes . about 300 grams
- 1.5 to 2 liters of water
- one yellow squash or zucchini
- 150 grams of rainbow cherry tomatoes .
- 100 grams field peas or green peas
- 100 grams beet greens . collard greens . chard or spinach
Peel the onion and cut it paper thin in wedges. Pour the olive oil into a soup or stewing pot with a thick bottom. Sautee the onions at low heat, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile wash the flat leaf parsley and pick the leaves of the rosemary. Shake the parsley dry and chop both the leaves and the stems fine. Add the chopped parsley to the onions and stir. Pick the leaves from the rosemary sprig and chop them fine with a sharp knife. Throw the rosemary in the pot, and add a teaspoon of sea salt along with it. Stir the onion and herb mixture occasionally, while as you prepare the rest of the vegetables. This will create golden, translucent caramelized onions . . . the foundation of (almost) all good savory things.
Wash and peel the carrots and cut them into coins. Wash the potatoes, and if they are organic, leave the skins on. Cut the potatoes into chunks and add the carrots and potatoes to the pot as well. Add one liter of hot water and bring the ingredients to a simmer. Prepare the rest of the vegetables as follows.
Wash the squash or zucchini and cut it into thin rounds. Wash the cherry tomatoes and cut them in half. Char them in a hot skillet with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil until the skins just barely pop, then set them aside. Remove the peas from their pods or put some frozen peas in a bowl to thaw. Wash the greens of your choice and chop them coarsely, keeping the leaves bite-sized and intact.
Taste the broth created by the mix of vegetables and herbs stewing in the pot. Add sea salt if needed. Then add the zucchini and peas. Top the vegetables until just covered, with hot water. Be careful not to add too much liquid to the pot, because the only rule to a zuppa is that the vegetables shouldn’t swim in the broth. Rather, there should be just enough to soak up the liquid with a good piece of bread !
Put a lid on the pan and steam the vegetables on medium heat about five minutes. Taste the potatoes and carrots for tenderness (they should be cooked completely, with a delicious bite. Turn off the heat, leaving the lid on the pot. Allow the zuppa to rest and cool about ten minutes; this allows the flavors to mix and mellow.
Stir through the charred cherry tomatoes. Toss the green leaves with two tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Stir the leaves through the warm zuppa and taste it for the right balance between salt and savory elements. Add sea salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and some freshly ground black pepper. Taste the zuppa to check if it is perfectly warm, and otherwise heat it gently before filling your soup bowls !
I learned the zuppa tradition while living in the Veneto countryside, in northern Italy. Along with a steaming bowl of aromatic vegetables, came a thick slice of toasted day old bread. A meal in itself, this type of preparation doesn’t ask for additional ingredients to make a complete supper. A dusting of finely grated Parmesan or aged Asiago cheese brings additional savory goodness, as do fried breadcrumbs.
While we are on the topic of the Veneto, allow me to specify that the use of olive oil is not as common in cooking as sunflower oil. I think my friends in the north would agree that the richness of extra virgin olive oil is a welcome flavor creator for this one-pan garden based mixture.
A zuppa is different than a minestrone, because minestrone is generally made with the addition of beans, pasta, rice or a combination thereof.
There is nothing as personal as soup and minestrone in Italy (except perhaps for the rules to making tomato sauce . . ) so, please take my notes as a general guideline, because I promise you there will always be exceptions to the rule.
Last note but not least, I make my soups, whether they are zuppa or minestrone with a vegetable base. If you like, feel free to use a fish or meat based broth, if you prefer.