And Now for a Little Something to Go with All That NK Bread

I never make soup. That’s because I’ve been under the mistaken impression that my husband of 30 years doesn’t like it. But having him home convalescing from his second successful hip-replacement surgery I’ve noticed that he’s been eating canned soup practically every day for lunch. Naturally I had to spring into action and do something about this.What resulted was the best soup I’ve ever tasted—possibly the best thing I’ve ever tasted period: soul satisfying, nourishing, complex flavors with exquisite texture. I mourned the last mouthful and licked both bowls. It didn’t hurt that extreme cold weather has arrived—finally—which makes everything taste that much better.

It began with a veal shank from my butcher Pino. I was trying a recipe from Molly Steven’s glorious book on braising. She mentioned in the recipe that if you were lucky enough to find a whole shank weighing around 4 pounds instead of the smaller bottom section usually available it would be a great alternative. That was all Pino had or even understood as being a shank and it weighed 5 pounds. I had to use my meat cleaver and a lot of courage to hack off the end so it would fit in the pot. I adored the dish. Elliott did not, as he calls braised food depression food. He may have a point—it’s an excellent way to cook potentially tough cuts but also great for lean and expensive cuts like veal! After enjoying every last bit down to the ligaments, i regretted having no access to the marrow—my very favorite part. So I brought it back to Pino who has an electric saw. No more hacking with the meat cleaver for me. Pino eyed the bone with astonished admiration saying: you sure did a good job on it—there’s not a shred of meat left. I smiled. He knows how I appreciate and make the most of his meat. He proceeded to cut the bone in three parts in short order and off I trotted to start the soup.

Since I was going to be home all day I decided to boil the bone until it was time to add the beans. And all day long I was treated to the aroma of veal stock. (I boiled it a good 9 hours along with that little piece I had hacked off.) I remembered my recipe for pitcha that I haven’t made for years—calves food jelly—and decided that next time around I’ll use the foot which has even more gelatin. Which reminds me of a hilarious story. My recipe tester at the time (no names mentioned here) told me that the recipe wasn’t working—it wouldn’t jell. After much Sherlock Holmes type scrutiny I discovered that instead of using the two calves feet I had called for he decided that bigger was better and used a cow’s foot! If I were to have another caricature drawn I would suggest including a huge magnifying glass. So the first secret of this soup is the veal bone which gives it not just fantastic flavor but also a gorgeous velvety fullness in the mouth that usually requires fat to achieve. The second secret is purple barley introduced to me by my friend and colleague Marguerite Thomas. We both found it at Whole Foods. It takes the same amount of time as the beans and maintains its slight crunch. The third secret is fregola—a toasted round little pasta from Italy—check on line for source. Israeli couscous could be substituted but will take a little less time to cook. The third secret is sautéing the vegetables which gives a much deeper and more mellow flavor. I also added little chunks of left-over veal. It would also be fine to poach some small veal shanks or osso bucco cut veal for about 2 hours before adding the beans, remove them to cool, cut into small pieces to add at the end. Another addition I’ll make next time is a few dried porcini mushrooms added with the vegetables. In the spirit of full disclosure I also added a little of the leftover sautéed shallots and about 2 tablespoons of the stock from braising the veal with rosemary, vermouth, orange, a hint of honey, and lemon zest and a little vinegar, so rosemary or thyme and a little balsamic would be great additions but just a very small amount--use your judgement--just a soupçon! Remember—no salt until the beans are cooked to ensure that they soften. I know some people maintain that it makes no difference but I believe in taking no chances. I’m aspiring to bean not bullet soup!

Beans and Barley Soup January 2007
Serves: 4
Cooking time for beans: total 2 hours Note: After the bones have been boiling for as long as possible, remove them and reduce the liquid to 1 quart. Cut off any cartilage to add at the end (Instead of pouring it out into a measuring cup I start off by adding 1 quart of water to the pot and measure the depth with a ruler.)

white beans: 142 grams/5 ounces/3/4 cup, soaked for at least 7 hours, and drained
purple barley: 47 grams/1.7 ounces/1/4 cup, soaked for at least 2 hours
1 bay leaf 1-1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic
minced fregola (toasted pasta balls): 42 grams/1.5 ounces/1/4 cup
salt and pepper to taste

Add the drained beans and barley to the simmering quart of stock (UNsalted) and simmer for 30 minutes, partially covered. (If using regular pearl barley add it after the first hour of cooking.

Meanwhile, sauté the carrots, onion, and celery for about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the vegetables to the simmering beans after the first 30 minutes of cooking. Simmer, still partially covered, for 40 minutes.

Add the fregola and continue cooking for another 20 minutes. Then add leftover veal if using it and continue simmering for 10 minutes.

If further thickness is desired leave the cover off. Alternatively, if too thick, add some boiling water. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Ladle into bowls and drizzle a little olive oil on top. Note: I defrosted two slices of NK bread, heated them in the oven for 3 minutes at 350˚/175˚C., spread on a little butter for mine, and was astonished by the mild sourdough quality that I hadn’t detected when eaten freshly baked! On a second note, it would be a good idea to increase this recipe as it’s too good not to have second helpings.