Many households are already counting down to Passover, and one of the challenges is to use up hametz before the holiday arrives. If your freezer looks like mine, it has bread in it. You could use it to make French toast or bread pudding, but for most people savory recipes might be more practical.
In Europe, a time-honored way to use extra bread is in soup. Italian pappa al pomodoro, or tomato and bread soup, is a classic example. Suzanne Dunaway, author of Rome, At Home, makes this popular soup by sautéing garlic in olive oil and adding bite-size pieces of toasted rustic bread, pureed fresh tomatoes and basil. After a few minutes of simmering, the soup is ready. She serves it with a splash of olive oil, a favorite finishing touch for many Italian soups.
In his just-published book, One-Pot Wonders, my friend Clifford A. Wright uses an old-fashioned soupthickening technique in a homey, minestrone-like soup. He sautés potatoes, cabbage and chard in olive oil with onions and garlic and simmers them with red beans, smoked meat and tomato. To thicken the soup, Wright adds slices of day-old country bread to the pot and continues cooking the soup until a spoon can stand straight up in its center. At serving time, he drizzles the soup with olive oil.
Garlic toast is a popular addition to soup among cooks in Italy. Joe Famularo, author of Viva La Cucina Italiana, uses it in his Calabrian onion soup with potatoes. He brushes slices of Italian bread with oil, grills them on both sides, rubs them with a cut clove of garlic and puts them in soup bowls. To make the soup he sautés onions and potatoes and simmers them in broth flavored with grappa or brandy. He ladles the soup over the grilled garlic bread, tops it with grated pecorino cheese and drizzles it with olive oil.
For his Tuscan kale soup, Famularo treats whole-wheat bread in a similar way. He cooks sliced kale, a dark leafy green, in broth and then dips garlic-rubbed toast slices in the broth and puts them in soup bowls. At serving time, he drizzles the toast with olive oil, tops it with the cooked kale, sprinkles the greens with a little more olive oil, salt and pepper and ladles a little broth into each bowl. He serves grated Parmesan cheese separately.
Pumpernickel bread is sometimes used by German cooks to thicken soup. Mimi Sheraton, author of The German Cookbook, uses it to make her black bread and sour cream soup. She simmers the bread in broth with some caraway seeds and then purees the mixture and enriches it with sour cream. For a meaty bread soup, she makes black bread soup with sausages.
French onion soup topped with grilled bread and Gruyere cheese is famous worldwide, but cooks in France pair bread and soup in other ways. When I studied at La Varenne Cooking School in Paris, I learned about the delicious country soup called potage garbure that comes garnished with vegetable- topped toasts. To make the toasts, cooks puree some of the soup vegetables and spread the puree on toasted French bread slices, which are then browned in the oven with grated cheese and added to each bowl of soup. (See recipe below.) Soups thickened with bread are not necessarily rustic.
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Wright’s colorful potato and chickpea soup, which he garnishes with pine nuts, parsley and chopped hard boiled egg, is elegant enough for a festive dinner. Flavored in the Spanish style, the soup is made by simmering the chickpeas and potatoes with sauteed onions, tomatoes, fresh spinach and white wine, and finished with saffron and garlic.
To thicken the soup, Wright sautés bread slices in olive oil, puts them in soup bowls and douses them with sherry vinegar. (See recipe below.) These soups are good all year round. Although many were developed to use up extra bread, they are so well-liked that people even buy bread to make them.
FRENCH GARBURE SOUP
The bread in this vegetable soup comes as toast topped with a puree of cooked soup vegetables and browned with grated cheese. Cooked dried beans give this soup body and protein, but you can use 2⁄3 to 1 cup of canned beans instead; in this case, omit the onion, thyme and bay leaf.
Makes 6 servings
1⁄3 cup dried white beans
1 whole onion
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3 Tbsp. olive oil or butter
White and light green part of
2 leeks, cleaned and cut in thin slices
3 large carrots, peeled and cut in thin slices
1⁄4 small cabbage, cut in thin slices
2 medium potatoes, peeled, halved and cut in thin slices
2 zucchini, diced
2 to 4 garlic cloves, chopped
About 6 cups vegetable broth or water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1 thin French bread (baguette) or 4 long French rolls, cut in thin slices
1⁄2 cup grated Swiss cheese
Cayenne pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Put beans, onion, thyme and bay leaf in a large saucepan and add water to cover by about 2.5 cm (1 inch). Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer uncovered for 11⁄2 hours, adding hot water occasionally so that beans remain covered. Discard onion, thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Reserve beans in 3⁄4 cup of their liquid; you can save any extra liquid for other soups.
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large saucepan. Add leeks, carrots and cabbage. Cook over low heat, stirring often, 15 minutes. Add potatoes, zucchini, garlic, 6 cups broth, beans in their liquid, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Add peas and cook about 10 minutes longer or until vegetables are very tender.
Preheat oven to 190ºC (375ºF). Put sliced bread on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake about 3 minutes on each side or until lightly toasted.
Remove about 1⁄3 of the vegetables from the saucepan with a slotted spoon.
Puree them in a blender or food processor until very smooth. Transfer puree to a small saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring, until very thick. Taste and adjust seasoning. Spread puree generously on toast slices and sprinkle with grated cheese. Return any remaining puree to soup. Bake toasts about 10 minutes or until cheese melts and browns lightly; if necessary, broil briefly to brown.
Reheat soup if necessary. If soup is too thick, stir in a little more broth or water. Stir in remaining oil or butter, if desired. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper, and adjust seasoning. At serving time, sprinkle soup with chopped parsley and put a cheese-topped toast in each bowl of soup.POTATO AND CHICKPEA SOUP
This recipe is from One-Pot Wonders.
Author Clifford A. Wright notes that with the addition of fresh spinach, this soup is not only healthy but also pretty.Makes 6 servings
6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
110 gr. (1⁄4 pound)
French or Italian bread, cut into 4 slices
3 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 tsp. sweet or hot paprika
2 cups canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
450 gr. (1 pound) spinach, trimmed of stems and torn into smaller pieces
3 potatoes (about 450 gr. or 1 pound), peeled and cut into small pieces
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 cups water
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. pine nuts 1⁄4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped Pinch of saffron
1 large hard-boiled egg, shelled and chopped
In a soup pot or flameproof baking casserole, heat 4 Tbsp. of the olive oil over medium heat, then cook the bread until golden brown and crispy, 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove the bread, tear into smaller pieces, place in 6 soup bowls and douse with the vinegar.
In the same pot, add the remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil, then add the onion, tomatoes and paprika and cook, stirring occasionally, until a thick sauce has formed, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add the chickpeas, spinach, potatoes, wine, salt, pepper and water. Turn the heat to high, and once the spinach wilts and the broth is beginning to boil, reduce the heat to low and cook until the potatoes are very nearly tender, about 45 minutes.
Add the garlic, pine nuts, parsley, saffron and hard-boiled egg. Turn the heat off, let rest for 10 minutes, then serve by ladling the soup over the bread in the bowls.Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book Fresh from France: Vegetable Creations.
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