Sunday, September 19, 2010

Soup Night

I made soup this afternoon; it's a nice way to spend a lazy Sunday when everyone else is either working on lectures or stretched out like this:


Those of you who know the Proper Bostonian know that she seldom follows a recipe exactly — better ideas always occur to her along the way. And she prefers not to use recipes at all but to improvise, relying on her senses and (limited) common sense instead.

This might explain the PB's unusually dismal grades in college chemistry, which pointed her permanently in the direction of the liberal arts....

So, my soup was an improvisation. I'd picked up my ingredients at the farmer's market on Friday: potatoes, green beans, yellow beans, zucchini, corn, and carrots. I already had an onion, a couple of jars of chicken stock, and a can of San Marzano tomatoes. Everything got chopped in to tiny chunks and added to the pot, after I sautéed onions and poured in the stock. Then I added salt, pepper, and a bouillon cube. (I always use a cube because my grandmother put one in her soup. And no soup ever tasted better than hers.)

The taste was a little lackluster so I added a dollop of homemade pesto, which had been sitting around for awhile but was still bright green and fragrant once I dug deep into the jar.

Then I decided to add some pasta. I had a bag of imported annellini from the Pace's in the North End. These are teeny-tiny little Os, very cute, and great for soup. I boiled a pot of water —I didn't want them to absorb all my soup liquid — and looked on the bag to see how long to set the timer.

No such luck. The instructions say, "Cook al dente or until the desired degree of tenderness is reached."

Then they tell you drain the pasta in a colander and serve with your favorite sauce. So elementary and basic as to be verging on sarcasm. 

These instructions might as well have said, "Use your head, dummy! Do we really need to tell you to cook this stuff until it's done? And drain the water? And eat it with sauce?  How old are you???" 

But Italians tend to be very polite, even when writing instructions for idiotic Americans who can barely boil water. 

I'll bet the pasta for domestic consumption has no instructions at all.

An Italian doesn't need to be told how long to cook pasta, as an American does. An American is doing three other things in the kitchen while her pasta cooks, and she might also be texting and watching a cooking show on TV. An American expects to be given instructions and to follow them, so she doesn't have to pay attention or rely on past experience. An Italian is probably doing similar things all at once, maybe without the TV, but she still knows when the pasta is done because she manages to keep an eye on it. And because she's done it thousands of times.

Reading those useless instructions made me happy. Apparently I just hate to be told what to do in the kitchen (unless I'm baking; that's different). So I watched the pasta turn from hard to soft, tasted it a few times until it was right, and that was that. The soup was good, served with a chunk of warm cornbread and salad. And there are quarts of leftovers.

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup.

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