January is probably my least-favorite month.
For the productivity freak inside me, it’s great because I’m full of ideas, lists, and empty notebooks. But for the animal being inside, I’m longing for sun, and not gray, or rain, or even snow. Since I moved to Milan, I have grown to dread January – all of the cold of December, none of the fun holiday flash! I know that winter in Milan isn’t as bad in comparison with some places (I just read a book about Russia during World War II, so I know when to shut up, believe me) but I also can’t help but be affected by it. I often shut my window shutters and then turn on all the lights in my house, pretending it’s most likely sunny outside. When you work from home, you do things like this, and play with lighting in your house, too (on Instagram? I’m rossosara).
One of the things that keeps me going in January is making a big pot or two of soup every week. I LOVE SOUP. I love it. I love that you can make a big pot of it and eat it for 2-3 days. I “rejuvenate” the soup by adding a new ingredient the next night when I heat it up. And of course, shaving some parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano on top with a little extra virgin olive oil makes everything better.
I celebrate the passing of the days of January by reaching the bottom of a soup bowl. An accomplishment, of sorts.
Last week it was a hearty chicken soup (much like the one I’m sharing today), and a split pea and ham soup later in the week. Four bowls of soup bottomed-out, one more week of January done and gone. When the beginning of the week rolls around, another big pot of soup is ready to be consumed.
I’ve been using this zuppa del casale mix that I got down in Puglia to add some character and carbohydrates to my regular chicken soup. The zuppa del casale, soup of the house or farmhouse, is a hearty winter dish of mixed legumes and grain. It’s available pre-mixed, or you can make your own. I have a large sack which I continue to add dried legumes and lentils to, so it’s constantly changing.
You can make the zuppa di casale thick or thin. If made like the former, it becomes almost like a thick stew. I tend to prefer the latter as I enjoy lots of broth in my soups, and I also make pots of thick lentils to be consumed other times. I’ll talk about my favorite bowls of lentils soon, not to be confused with lentil soup.
Here’s what my zuppa del casale sack looks like:
One thing you should note from the photo – most of the beans and lentils are roughly the same size. There aren’t any cannellini beans or fava beans in there, which would require a little longer cooking time. Even those red beans are pretty tiny if you compare them to the split peas. That’s a choice of mine. If your ingredients vary wildly in size, take this into account when cooking and be sure to taste those larger legumes to test for doneness.
So as I put this pot on boil, and pour the legumes in, I know in some way I’m winning the war against January. I see you, January. I’m coming for you. Me and my soup.
Zuppa del Casale – Mixed Legume Vegetable Soup Recipe
This soup is pretty forgiving, which is why you just want to make sure you start with a good-tasting homemade broth, and give the legumes enough time to cook so they’re cooked through. You’ll want to start making this several hours before serving if you aren’t sure how long your legumes will take to cook. Some people soak the dried beans and lentils overnight, but I don’t. See my note above about keeping the dried legumes roughly the same size. This will serve 2-4 people and it’s easily scaled up with more ingredients and broth.
- 1 liter of Homemade chicken stock
- 200 grams of zuppa del casale – a mix of rice, dried lentils, split peas, navy beans, red beans, black-eyed peas, black beans, farro, and barley
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 medium onion
- 3 celery legs
- 2 garlic cloves (if needed for broth)
- Mixed vegetables – as you like: frozen or fresh peas, canned corn, small brussels sprouts, cauliflower or broccoli florets, pumpkin, kale leaves, spinach, potato, canned beans
- Shredded / pieced chicken (1-2 breasts/dark/light meat)
- Salt and pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano cheese
- Make your homemade broth earlier that day or the day before. After it’s cooled down, scrape the fat off the top and discard. If you don’t have any broth, chop the carrots, onions, and celery finely (with the optional garlic) and saute them for a few minutes in a large soup pan, and add 1 liter of water.
- Rinse the zuppa del casale / legumes and then add them to the water or broth. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to the lowest setting. This is when I move my pot to the smallest burner at the lowest setting, and let it cook for at least an hour with the lid cracked open slightly. If at any time the mixture needs more liquid, add hot or very warm water or broth a cup at a time.
- Test to make sure the legumes have started to soften. Add the sliced carrots, onion, celery, and other large chunked vegetables like potatoes, pumpkin, or brussel sprouts. If you’re adding canned beans, add them now, as well as any cooked / shredded chicken. Cook for another 15-30 minutes, testing for doneness and adding more water/broth if needed.
- 10 minutes or so before serving, add frozen peas, canned corn, kale leaves, spinach, or broccoli florets so they can stay more crisp and not mushy.
- After putting the soup into individual bowls, grate some cheese on top, and add a small swirl of extra virgin olive oil.
What do you put in your soup?
Here’s a version with kale and pumpkin: