The literal translation of Minestra Maritata is ‘Wedding Soup’. Gennaro Contaldo says it’s because of the way the meat and the vegetables marry so well together. I say that he can say what he likes, and often does!, but you could call this ‘Spit In My Eye Soup’ and it wouldn’t be any less delicious. This is a good example of cucina povera, which Contaldo and Carluccio were going on and on and on about in the two series of The Greedy Italians – and I can see why! It’s simple and cheap, but also healthy and completely fall-off-your-chair delicious.
The food of every day people always has certain alluring qualities; the signature taste of time and love invested in making not a lot into something that satisfies the body and the soul. This soup is no exception. It reminded me of when I first made Raymond Blanc’s Soup au Pistou. The complete shock and awe of putting a few vegetables in some water and ending up with a vibrant and incredibly rich soup. It may have been (was) the addition of pork, but the Greedy Italians’ version was even more extraordinary.
Not only did it taste fantastic, but every mouthful made you smile from the inside out. It was worth waiting nearly two hours for and it was definitely worth the whopping total of £3 spent on ingredients. While I was eating it, visions of a spring dinner party danced in my mind. It’s that good. I could image people sitting down, looking at it and thinking: Really? Cabbage soup?! And then tasting it and slumping back into their chairs beaming with happiness. Alright, that may be a bit of a romantic notion, but behind it is the unequivocal fact: This is good food.
Recipe adapted from The Greedy Italians cookbook (original available here)
1lb (500g) Bacon (or any piece of pork that will benefit from nearly 2 hours of cooking)*
1/2 medium Saboy Cabbage, roughly sliced
1 large White or Yellow Onion, roughly chopped
1 stalk Celery, roughly chopped
1-2 large Carrots, roughly chopped
2 Tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp Fennel Seeds
8 cups (2 Liters) Water
Stock Cubes or Stock Pots (optional)
1 tin Butter Beans, drained and rinsed
Basil oil, for drizzling (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Blanch the cabbage in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
2. Place all ingredients, except for the cabbage, stock cubes and basil oil, in a large pot, cover and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently with the lid on for 1 hour.
3. Remove pork from the soup and chop into pieces, discarding any fat or rind. Return to the soup with the butter beans and stock cubes, if using.
4. Cover and simmer for another 25-40 minutes until the vegetables are tender. For the last 10 minutes, add the cabbage. (The original recipe recommends you add the cabbage when you return the chopped pork to the soup, but my cabbage lost its vibrant green color in the last 10 minutes of cooking so I would prefer to add it back at the end.)
5. To make the basil oil, tear a few leaves of basil into a jug and slug over a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Blend with a hand blender until smooth and season with salt and pepper. If you’re making extra to keep for another time, blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds or so and then refresh in ice water before blending with the oil.
6. Drizzle with basil oil (basil leaves, olive oil and salt blended together) and serve with crusty bread.
*In true cucina povera style, I used Sainsbury’s basics ‘cooking bacon’ which is described as follows: “Part rashers of unsmoked or smoked, rindless or rind on back, middle or streaky bacon of all shapes and sizes”. Basically, who knows what you’re getting except that it’s pork, hopefully. But at £1.64 per kilogram, I’ll take my chances! Try to get big pieces, if not all one big piece, with as little fat as possible.