Last week Evan and I went out to lunch with Sienna, to celebrate her birthday. You would think between the three of us, coming up with a place to go to lunch would be easy. But we were all sort of stressed out, working, and somehow just couldn’t decide. Then I remembered Cavour 313. Even though this enoteca is literally right around the corner, Sienna and I always seem to forget about it.
In addition to being one of the best enoteche in town, and the oldest, it has great soups. Which makes it the perfect choice for lunch. Don’t you often feel like soup and a salad for lunch? Instead of pasta? (And yes, maybe a glass of great wine as well.) They always have a soup of the day, not an easy thing to find in Rome. The soup that day was a puree of fave and pumpkin, topped with a tangle of chicory. Perfect!
So last night I decided to whip up my own version. First of all, after a two week food binge with Evan, I was thinking maybe some healthy type of dish was in order. And secondly, it’s cold and rainy in Rome. Soup time.
I started with the basic idea of bean puree lightened with the addition of a vegetable, and topped with a bitter green.
Luckily Domenico spent the weekend in Bari, and came back with three sacks of legumes, including some cicherchie from Basilicata. If you don’t know them, cicherchie are the wild cousin of chickpeas. And like all things wild, they are so much better. They are big, flat and much stronger tasting than chickpeas.
Instead of pumpkin, I decided to use the fennel I got at the farmer’s market on Sunday to lighten things up. While I do like my legumes straight up, they are such a perfect pair with sweeter vegetables like squash and fennel.
And the greens? I had bought two big bunches of puntarelle. Puntarelle is a type of chicory that forms tiny, asparagus looking pointy spears in the middle of the bunch. It’s very labor intensive to prepare, since you must first peel off the leafy greens, and then carefully slice the spears into strips. The strips are then placed in a cold water bath, to soak for at least an hour. This allows them to lose some of their bitterness, while also curling up nice and pretty.
Although the leafy greens are perfectly good to eat, (they are chicory) there usually aren’t quite enough to make a real meal – or even side dish. But for my purposes – garnishing the soup- I had just the right amount. And a side dish of puntarelle salad included!
I know it’s hard to find puntarella in the States. Although the crunchy, bitter salad is unique, the typical garlicky dressing that goes on it would be wonderful on other types of chicory, like belgian endive or curly endive.
The soup turned out great. The earthy cicerchie were balanced by the sweet fennel, and the bitter mess-o-greens on top was not only pretty, but delicious. But, the thing that pulled it all together was a generous, final drizzle of bright green, freshly-pressed olive oil my friend Elizabeth Wholey brought to me from her farm in Umbria.
Puree of Cicherchie and Fennel Soup
2 cups cicerchie*
2 heads of fennel
Small bunch of chicory (about 3 cups)
Soak cicerchie for at least 6 hours in cold water.
Rinse cicerchie, and place in large pot, with enough water to cover by two inches. Add 1 Tablespoon salt, and bring to boil. Let simmer until tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. Drain the beans, reserving the water.
Return the beans to the pot, adding back just enough water to cover.
Chop fennel into half inch pieces and add to pot.
Return to simmer and cook till fennel is tender (about 12 minutes).
Puree entire contents of pot, adding more of the cicerchie liquid if needed. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper.
Boil chicory until just tender, in salted water. Drain.
Ladle into individual bowls. Top each with a small bunch of chicory. Drizzle with olive oil.
*you can certainly substitute chickpeas. But I did find a source for cicerchie.
(enough to dress about 6 cups of puntarelle, or other salad)
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh
juice from one lemon (about 1/4 cup juice)
1/3 cup olive oil (I used the freshly pressed olive oil I mentioned above, from my friend Elizabeth. It was extraordinary!)
Put all the ingredients in a blender, and mix till blended. Taste and adjust. You might like it a bit less lemony, if so add more oil. But it is a very strong tasting dressing.