Sunday, April 21, 2013

Comfort food

This past week has not been one I will look back on fondly - as a native Bostonian, as an American, or, frankly, as a human being. By the time Friday night dinnertime rolled around, the hunt for the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect was entering its seventh hour. Updates were coming in by the minute (and sometimes by the second) in real time on Twitter, and I was following along from the other side of the world. The temperature in Canberra was dropping steadily. I was ready for something hot and comforting for dinner, grateful that all my loved ones in Boston were safe and well, and thinking of all those – in Boston and beyond – who are not so fortunate.

Tomato-rice soup

Growing up, we always called this “rice and potatoes”, and we ate it like clockwork every other Friday night (alternating with pasta e fagioli) during the colder months, accompanied by crackers and cheese and grilled cheese toast. I’ve never found anything exactly like it, so I don’t know if my grandmother invented it or if it’s just never made its way into a cookbook. It’s full of starch, topped with cheese, and very comforting. I’ve tinkered with the recipe a little bit (mainly the soffrito at the beginning) to give it a little more flavor complexity, without diverging from its cucina povera origins.

2 Tbsp/30 ml olive oil
half a medium red onion
half a medium carrot
half a medium celery stick
1 clove garlic
2 slices spicy salami
1 bottle (700g) tomato passata or equivalent fresh or canned tomatoes
1 medium-sized white potato
1 cup long-grain white rice
grated pecorino romano cheese, for serving

Heat olive oil over low heat in a medium soup pot. Chop the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and salami finely into a soffrito (I use my mini chopper for this), and add to the pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften.

Pour passata into pot; fill container ¾ full with water. Swirl around to get all traces of tomato, then add to pot. Stir thoroughly and leave to heat to a simmer.

While soup is heating, wash and peel potato, then cut into dice. (Size is up to you; the smaller they are, the faster they cook.) Add potato dice to soup, stir again, and leave to cook for 20-30 minutes, until beginning to be tender.

When potatoes are on their way to being cooked but not quite there, stir in rice and leave to cook again, 10-15 minutes, until rice is cooked but still somewhat firm.

When rice is cooked, stir soup and check consistency; thin with water if necessary. Add salt to taste and serve hot, topped with grated cheese.

Serves 6 as a main course accompanied by bread/crackers and cheese, with probably some left over.

Note: the rice continues to absorb the liquid, so as this cools it looks less and less like soup and more like risotto. If you have enough to reheat later, add some water to the mixture to get it back to souplike consistency.


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