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Chickpea, spinach and dried mushroom soup (Zuppa di ceci, spinaci e porcini secchi)

When I ask friends, and most Indian chefs, about Italian soups the first answer is always minestrone. And then there is never another answer. This is a cuisine that could be defined by soup, glorious for how they use the freshest ingredients, and for their variety. Here is one that is a wonderful variation on a classic.

A classic version of this soup is plain spinach and chickpea. Simple, delicate and delicious. This is an upscaled version that uses a simple porcini broth that makes this soup special. The earthy broth works well with the textured chickpeas and the fresh spinach that adds chlorophyll. this is a super healthy soup, nutritious and lovely. I generally like to have it alone with simple sourdough bread and some light cheese like a Brie.

Marcella Hazan is considered by many to be the doyen of Italian food and is credited with bringing traditional Italian cuisine to the US. She has published numerous cookbooks and I have quite a few of them. I have no idea how I started collecting her cookbooks, but each one, including this one, is a gem. Her amazing story of becoming one of the best-loved Italian chefs in America is detailed in a New Yorker article here. This volume is loaded with non-fussy traditional recipes that stay true to the core of light Italian cooking the dishes transport you back to Italy. This book is a compendium of classic recipes, one that belongs on every chef's kitchen counter and needs to be pulled out to curb that craving for great and healthy Italian cuisine.

For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.


1 1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, or dried wild mushrooms

1 cup water

1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in 2 cups water overnight

1 small bay leaf

1 clove garlic, sliced

3 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 onion, finely minced

1/2 cup tomatoes, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Salt, to taste

1 lb fresh spinach, well washed and sliced into ribbons

Parmesan cheese, to garnish

Heat the 1 cup water and add the mushrooms. Soak for 30 minutes.

Heat the 3 cups water in a pan and add the chickpeas, bay leaf, garlic, and salt. Bring to a boil and scoop off any scum. Simmer gently for 30 or so minutes tll the chickpeas are just tender but still retain a good bite. Drain and set aside.

heat the oil and butter in a saucepan. Add the onions and sauté till a light golden in colour.

Remove the soaked mushrooms retailing the soaking liquids. Cut the mushrooms into a fine dice. Add to the onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for 4-5 minutes more till the tomatoes have started to break down.

Strain the mushroom soaking liquid to remove any crud and add to the pot with the pepper and salt. Bring to a boil. Add the spinach and cook for 4 minutes till the spinach is just wilted. It is best to cook the spinach right before you serve the dish so that it looks fresh on the table.

Serve hot with Parmesan grated on top as a garnish.

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