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Soups and Stews

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Italian-American Cooperative of Clifton, NJ. Behind counter: left, Charles Bertolotti, mgr.; right: "Rennie", head butcher.

Italian-American Cooperative of Clifton, NJ.
Behind counter: left, Charles Bertolotti, mgr.; right: “Rennie”, head butcher.

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Grandpa Charlie Bertolotti’s Minestrone from Ferno

The Bertolotti side of my family is Lombard, from Ferno, near Milan. Minestrone is an old standard, with many variations. I guess the only special feature in this one is that my grandfather would drop a whole, peeled medium onion into the soup. There must have been a reason, but I do not know it, except that when the soup was served the kids competed to first spot (and get) the onion. Here, I have changed the recipe to include chopped onion. Also, a tip from the master soup-maker, my father-in-law Bill Tiefenbacher: chop the veggies up small.

Ingredients (for 6 or more servings):

1 lb. large dry limas (or other favorite beans) – rinse & soak them overnight
1 medium onion (chopped) and 1 small onion (peeled but whole)
1/8 lb. salt pork, minced (can substitute with butter or margarine)
4 carrots, chopped
1 turnip, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 lb. chopped spinach
½ head shredded cabbage
1 ½ cups canned tomatoes
1 ½ tspn salt
8 bouillon cubes (favorite flavor)
¼ cup red wine (optional)
12 cups water (more, if needed); use the water from the beans as part of this

½ lb. noodles or ½ cup rice (optional)

Directions:

Sauté the chopped onion until golden brown in the minced salt pork (or the butter or margarine). Add the beans and water, bouillon cubes, salt, and vegetables, including the whole onion. Add the wine, if desired. Cook until desired consistency, usually, about 50 minutes, with another 10 minutes if you want to then add in the noodles or rice.

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Spinach and Egg Soup

I think this came from my father’s side of the family, who came from the Venice-Friuli area (Pordenone and Treviso). My mother made it when we had bread going stale.

Ingredients (for 6 servings):

2 lbs. spinach, chopped up
1 onion, chopped
12 cups chicken or vegetable broth
12 eggs
Enough bread (such as Italian bread; stale is fine) for 6 bowls, broken into chunks
Salt, pepper and other seasonings, to taste

Serve with grated cheese if desired

Directions:

Bring the broth to a boil, and then add the onion and spinach for just a minute or two. Season as desired. Meanwhile, line the bottom of 6 soup bowls with the chunks of bread. Just before the broth and veggies are done, put two raw eggs in each bowl. Then pour the broth into the bowls. Top with grated cheese, if desired, and serve.

A variation would be Spinach Soup with Rice. Boil 1 cup of rice in the chicken or vegetable broth (or 10 bouillon cubes with 12 cups water). When it is almost done (usually around 15 minutes) add the chopped-up spinach and onion (sautéed onion would be even better), and seasoning. When almost done, you can drop in raw eggs and/or top with grated cheese, as desired.

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Grandma Catina’s Lentil & Salamini Stew

This recipe comes from my grandmother Catherine (“Catina”) Zanotti Bertolotti, who was a Cadorin from San Vido di Cadore, up in the Alps. This is included in the soup section because although it can be eaten “as is”, as a stew, usually when this is done we remove the salamini sausages and serve them separately, with polenta. Then we add more water, if needed, to the lentils to make a nicely-flavored lentil soup.

We called these sausages “salamini” or “musette”, but nowadays you can find something like them (usually not quite as good) in Italian food stores often labeled as “cotecchino”. They usually are pre-cooked, but they should be boiled anyway (pierce the skin all over with a fork), to get rid of a lot of the fat. In fact, try to find less fatty ones to start with.

Ingredients:

1 box/bag of dried lentils
1 or 2 salamini/musette/cotecchini
1 medium or large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 clove garlic
2 tbs. chopped parsley
2 qts water or broth (in addition to the water used for “cooking” the salamini)
½ cup canned tomatoes, or ½ can tomato paste (optional)
Black pepper to taste (there already should be plenty of salt from the salamini, but you can add more if desired)
½ cup red or white wine (optional)

Directions:

Follow the directions on the box for the lentils as to whether they need to be pre-soaked.

The salamini probably will be pre-cooked (check label), but boil them anyway, with the skins pierced all over with a fork, for about a half-hour. When done, discard the water, but first save some of the fat floating on top.

Sauté the onion, carrots, celery and garlic in the fat reserved from the salamini pot, adding olive oil or butter if there is not enough fat, until the onions are a bit translucent. Then add the wine, if desired, and black pepper, and cook for another minute.

Transfer the sautéed vegetables (and any remaining liquid) to a soup pot. (Or do the whole process in a Le Creuset or similar pot suitable for both sautéing and boiling.) Add the 2 quarts of water or broth and bring to a boil. Then add the lentils, parsley, salamini and tomatoes (if you are using tomatoes).

Cook/simmer for about 1 hour, adding water if necessary.

Again, make it less watery if you want a stew; add more water or broth if you want a soup. The salamini can be taken out and served separately with polenta (or rice).

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Tripe

This, like the lentils and salamini dish, is halfway between a soup and a stew. There is not so much liquid as in a soup, but we ate it with a spoon and sopped up the “gravy” with bread, more like with soup than with stew.

I believe that our family’s tripa was considered the best one around. Okay, maybe it was the only one around; not too many folks made it. But when the word was out that we had a batch prepared, the fans (relatives and neighbors) lined up for it. Making the tripa was a joint effort by Mom and Dad, but I believe that the dish is based on a recipe from Dad’s part of Italy, the Veneto. So the tripe is not covered with a tomato-based sauce, as found in many Italian restaurants. And it happens to taste much better than restaurant fare – – the tripe almost melts in your mouth. And, once you get beyond the idea that you are eating tripe, the combination of tripe, vegetable stew and good bread (or polenta) is out of this world.

The raw tripe (usually) comes frozen, and the resulting dish can also be frozen.

Ingredients:

2-3 lbs. tripe*
Small piece of butter
Small piece of salt pork
1 onion, chopped up fine
1 carrot, chopped up small
1 stalk of celery, chopped up small
A few tbsps of chopped parsley
1 small-ish can of tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ green pepper, chopped up (optional)
Water or chicken broth, as needed
¼ cup white wine (optional)

Serve with grated cheese, as desired

* This recipe is for 2-3 lbs. of tripa. However, we usually made 10 lbs. at a time. Just increase the amount of vegetables, etc. proportionately. The larger amount may have to be cooked a bit longer than as specified below.

Directions:

If you can get fresh tripe, have the butcher cut it into ¼ inch slabs. (And ask the butcher’s advice as to cleaning it.)

However, we usually got it frozen, in a box. If frozen, put the tripe under cold water and cut it into small pieces – – I prefer the pieces small, no more than 1 inch long. (In this case, too, it may be easier to first cut the block of tripe into ¼ inch slabs.)

Next, wash the tripe in boiling water for a while, then rinse in cold water until clean. Drain off the water.

Put a small piece of butter and small piece of salt pork in a pot. (A pot like a Le Creuset would be ideal.) Sauté the onion, carrot and celery until the onion starts to get golden.

Add the clean tripe and sauté it a bit, until it browns a little.

Add the wine (if using it), tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper.

When the liquid evaporates and the tripe starts to dry up, add a little hot water or hot broth while cooking. Keep doing this as necessary. (When done, there should be a fair amount of liquid, but the dish should not be soupy.)

Cook for about 3 hours. If you are using the green pepper, add it ½ hour before the dish is done.

Serve with grated cheese. You can sop up the liquid with good bread, or serve this dish with polenta.

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