Autumn brings vibrant colors and mellow flavors to Italy’s markets and, in Tuscany especially, soups to the table. At the markets of Tuscany, the region that boasts more soups than pasta in its repertoire of first courses, cabbages, carrots, onions and silver-beet are ready to be mixed with some of yesterday’s bread and beans for ribollita, a true Tuscan classic. Beautifully variegated pumpkins become the base for zuppa di zucca, a rich pumpkin soup fortified with hot smoked pancetta, a staple from the kitchens of Lucca, famous for soups made with grains and legumes, as in the recipe here, where the base for zuppa di zucca is borlotti beans. Buon appetito!
Zuppa di zucca gialla (serves four)
200g dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight in water
3 cloves garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Fresh sage leaves
50ml extra virgin olive oil, plus 50ml for serving
60g smoked pancetta
Half a glass of red wine
Half a pumpkin (pick a local one from market)
Pinch of chilli
Salt and pepper to taste
Begin by draining and rinsing off the borlotti beans that were soaked overnight. Cover abundantly with fresh water in a deep pot. Peel the garlic and add to the beans, along with a sprig of rosemary, some sage leaves, cracked black pepper and the first 50ml of extra virgin olive oil. Bring to the boil and turn down to a low simmer, skimming off the scum as it comes to the surface, and topping up with more water as it boils down.
Meanwhile, trim the rind off the pancetta and slice into lardons. Take a heavy-based large frypan and put on to heat. Dry fry the lardons, releasing some fat into the pan. After about three minutes, add the onion and sauté for five minutes on a low heat, being careful not to burn the onion. Add the half glass of red wine and set aside.
Peel the half pumpkin, remove the seeds and cut into small rough dice. When the beans are soft but not quite done, add the diced pumpkin, along with the pancetta and onion.
Cook for another 20 minutes or so until the pumpkin is soft. Then with the back of a fork break up some of the beans and pumpkin roughly. This will help to thicken the soup without making a puree. Add some salt, a little pinch of chilli, and some more cracked pepper.
Make crostini with the bread: slice and toast, rub with a clove of garlic, sprinkle with salt and extra virgin olive oil. Serve the soup in wide bowls. Break up the crostini and add to the soup. Finish with the remaining extra virgin olive oil.
Fattoria La Torre Montecarlo red DOC: an intense ruby red Cabernet Sauvignon with berry fruit and spice on the palate and a long finish.
Autumn market watch
Look for boxes of funghi del bosco, field mushrooms of different varieties, and chestnuts, which are also starting to be harvested. See my recipe that uses both at www.theflr.net/chestnuts. For the well-known Tuscan dessert castagnaccio, made with chestnut flour, extra virgin olive oil, rosemary, pine nuts and raisins and served with fresh ricotta, see the recipe at www.theflr.net/castagnaccio.