Driving the backroads of Italy on a cold and overcast day with cold feet and an empty stomach was not an idea we originally planned on, but following a friend’s suggestion, we were headed for a tiny restaurant tucked away in the countryside. We came upon it late in the afternoon, in a stand of bare oak trees, beside a small family owned winery. Rows of gnarled old grape vines bordered the road and a shepherd herded his flock through an adjoining field, closely followed by his faithful sheepdog. If hunger had not given me a push, I could have happily watched this rustic scene until the sun went down.
low ceilinged room was floored in ancient terra cotta tiles, worn in the traffic spots. A couple of hanging light fixtures illuminated the space, and small ceramic pots with a sprig or two of lavender were on the cloth covered tables. No sooner were we seated when the smiling owner brought a basket of home-baked crusty bread and a bowl of olive oil, and a bottle of house wine. Somewhere in the back we could hear the clatter of pots and pans and a wonderful smell told us we were in the right place.
We both opted for the soup of the day, which arrived in large ceramic bowls and a promise of seconds if we wished. The scent was addictive, with just a hint of garlic and parmigiano.
After this warming and satisfying meal, we asked who the talented chef was, and it turned out to be her son that day. Oh for a son like that in my kitchen!
A cup each of chopped carrots, celery and onion, sauteed in a little olive oil. Add a clove or 2 of garlic and a diced potato. Saute for about 5 more minutes, and add about 3 cans of chicken broth (or vegetable broth) Meanwhile, brown 2-3 Italian sausages and a few slices of bacon chopped. Drain the fat and add to vegetables. Add a couple large handfuls of chopped kale or chard to the pot. At this point if desired, you can also add a can of cannelini beans. (As you can see, you can take this soup in many different directions.) Add 1 cup of heavy cream. Throw in a couple Tbs. olive oil, a generous handful of bread crumbs, and a handful of parmigiano or pecorino cheese.
Now, about those bread crumbs. We always have leftover bread around, and I never throw anything away. (Depression baby.) We grind them and use them in many things. Toasted they are great sprinkled over a pasta dish or a cup of soup, but included IN the soup they serve to thicken it. Just keep them in a ziplock bag in the freezer and they reward you. Cut into 1/2 cubes, tossed in a little olive oil and garlic powder, they toast up nicely in a 325 over for about 10-12 min. and are good on salad or on top of soup.