Life-altering Italian soup

February 20, 2008

Guest Blogger Chef Sabrina FaloneItalyCiao tutti! My name is Sabrina Falone and I’m the test kitchen manager for Dana McCauley & Associates Ltd. I recently spoiled myself with a trip to Italy. I chose Italy because that’s where my family is from and I thought it only fitting to learn more about my culture before branching out into more exotic territories. I travelled all over the Central and Northern regions of Italy with a girlfriend and 40 other tourists for two weeks. I had a great time, but two weeks is not nearly enough time to truly appreciate Italy. It was ‘only a taste,’ our tour guide informed us at the beginning of the journey.The scenery was amazing and I met fantastic people. Both the art and architecture were literally breath-taking. (The Sistine Chapel can only be appreciated in person, so I won’t even try to express what it is like in words.)You must be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the food yet. Are you thinking it’s because I’m saving the best for last? No, regrettably the food was actually very, very disappointing. Granted, it was the part of my trip I had the highest expectations for but I never dreamed I would come home with so few pleasurable flavour experiences.Let me explain before you think I’m just being a stereotypical cheffy snob. I did have some great food. The two gelatos a day I ate were always delicious; the pizza was always good, regardless of the type of crust or toppings. And I never had a bad cup of coffee, and the wine was some of the best I’ve had. I made a deal with myself before the trip: I would eat anything and everything I wanted while in Italy and deal with the repercussions when I got back; hence the two helpings of gelato each day. (It was in the name of research!)I did, however, endure grey mystery meat, tasteless tomato sauce, over-cooked pork and countless plates of disappointing pasta. I did, however, have a bowl of life-alerting soup. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating but it was damn good!It was served in the least likely of places. A very small, hideously decorated trattoria, tucked away on a sketchy side street in Venice that we chose simply because it was there and we were cold and hungry.The proprietress suggested a bowl of bean soup (zuppa di fagioli) that she said was very good. Keeping to my quest for good food, I took her at her word. The soup wasn’t much to look at. There was no thoughtful presentation, the bowls were far from designer and, truthfully, the colour was a bit concerning. But the aroma made up for these lackings; the delicious aroma would have been enough to knock us over if we’d been standing.Without saying a word, we picked up our spoons and dove in. We were, by this point, all so disappointed by the food in Italy that we didn’t trust our first impressions. After a second taste, it was unanimous — the soup was delicious!Creamy, hearty and earthy. The tender, slow-cooked beans floated in a pureed fine-quality chicken broth with deep herbal notes. You just knew this was a recipe that had been in the maker’s family for generations. I wanted so badly to quiz her about the flavours and techniques but between her broken English and my limited Italian there wasn’t much opportunity to swap recipes.It’s been three months since I returned home from Italy and I can still taste that soup in my flavour memory. Unfortunately, my several attempts haven’t been able to duplicate that wonderful soup. That said, I’m confident that I will eventually crack the recipe and when I do, you’ll be the first to know.[Dana’s note: Take heart, Sabrina! You’ll get this recipe dilemma solved. Just look at Luisa at Wednesday Chef. She finally solved her foccacia puzzle.]