I know you don’t generally think of Grandmothers as sexy, David, but when Jennifer’s Great Grandmother began making soup one morning not only did I see her in a different light, I thought she was a sexy beast.

When I first met her the effect she had on me was that of most Mediterranean grandmothers. She smelled a little funny, but was extremely nice and her pinches only yielded minor bruises on my right cheek. Everything changed the first warm day of Spring when I spied her in the garden hunched over in her wheelchair pulling baby carrots from the rich, dark soil. What a woman. It didn’t matter she had no legs. By the time she wheeled the soup from the kitchen to the dining room table, I was considering polygamy. Jennifer just laughed at me, smacked my jaw shut causing me to bite my wagging tongue and said, “Eat your soup.”

Conchetta made many pots of soup that Spring and they were all called Zuppa della Nonna Conchetta but they only resembled each other in name. The first one she made on that beautiful, Spring day was my favorite. It was also the simplest. A few baby vegetables from her garden, dried chickpeas from last year’s harvest and rosemary from her window box.

R.I.P. Nonna Conchetta, 1897–1993


The Chickpeas
1 lb dried chickpeas
12 cups of water + water for soaking
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
sea salt

Sift through the beans and discard stones, debris and runts. Rinse the ones that made the cut under cold water. In an 8 qt stockpot, cover the chickpeas with 2 inches of water. put the lid on and store in cool spot overnight.

The following day, toast the cumin seeds in a small cast iron skillet and grind them in a mortar and pestle. Strain the chickpeas and add 12 cups of fresh, cold spring water, the bay leaf and the ground cumin.

Bring beans to a boil, skimming off any foam that develops, and then reduce to a simmer for about 1.5 until almost tender. Add the sea salt to taste (don’t be shy) and simmer for another 15 or 20 minutes

Strain the beans and reserve the liquid.
The Stock
6 baby onions and their tops
The stems from 1/2 pound of crimini mushrooms
3 spring garlic bulbs and their tops
12 pink peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 three to four inch rind of Parmigiano Reggiano
2 Tbs Sicilian olive oil
The reserved cooking liquid from the chickpeas
8 cups of water

In the 8 qt. stock pot, saute the whites of the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add the reserved cooking liquid from the chickpeas the water  and the remaining ingredients. You should have about 4 quarts of liquid in your pot. If not, add additional water.
Bring the stock to a boil and simmer for 1 hour. Strain and reserve the stock.

The Soup
6 baby onions and their tops, minced
3 spring garlic bulbs and their tops, slivered
8 baby carrots, about 6 inches long, cut diagonally, about 1 inch long
6 new potatoes, about 2 inches in diameter, diced
1/2 pound of crimini mushrooms caps, sliced thinly
8 leaves of young mustard greens, about 6 to 8 inches long, sliced thinly crosswise
1/3 pound of small casarecce or other smallish pasta for soup
1 branch of rosemary, about 6 inches long
6 branches of thyme
3 Tbs Sicilian olive oil
Sea salt
1 cup of dry Italian white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
A hand full of parsley leaves

Heat olive oil in your stock pot over medium heat. Add the baby onion and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute more. Add the potatoes, carrots, mustard and mushrooms. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes and add 2 pinches of salt.

Add the white wine and turn the heat to medium-high. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the broth, chickpeas, rosemary and thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes on low heat.

Turn the heat to medium-high, bring to a low boil and add the casarecce or other smallish pasta that takes 10 minutes to cook.

Turn the heat off and add the lemon juice. Taste for salt. Remove the herb stems with tongs. Let the soup sit covered for at least 2 hours.

Reheat the soup before serve. Garnish with fresh parsley leaves, grated Parmigiano Reggiano and serve with slices of toasted baguette rubbed with fresh garlic cloves.

Choose a red from Puglia or a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Cheers!