There is so much more to preparing fantastic Italian Soup and Stew recipes ...
... than just boiling some stock and throwing in some vegetables and maybe some meat. Italian soup and Italian stew recipes, when prepared in true gourmet fashion, are not really that different from preparation, say, of a palate tingling Cajun gumbo recipe. (Chef Dave makes a pretty mean one of these, also).
An Italian soup or stew recipe that will bring raves from your guests must be nurtured -- layered with a myriad of flavors, have the proper texture (thick, medium or thin), use the right stock, and the exact right ingredients, seasonings, etc., etc., etc.
If you don't happen to be an institutionally trained, gourmet Italian chef caliber cook, it's a darn good thing you found this page. Because the preparation tips here and the Italian soup and stew recipes, are tried and true, all in pressure packed situations (restaurants as well as dinner parties with discerning food critics [friends] as the partakers). If it terrifies you to even think about trying a new recipe on such a "foodie" crowd, Fageddaboudit. Dave will make a gourmet Italian soup aficionado out of you before you leave this web site! Believe it!
Many a fine and respected professional chef (and many a fine and respected Italian mother) will tell you that a really good Italian soup or stew depends on the quality of the stock. Well, Dave won't necessarily disagree with that. Stock (homemade chicken stock recipe) is not that hard to make, just time consuming. And, there are times when even Chef Dave doesn't have the time to make a stock from scratch. And cooking is Dave's life!
You'll be glad to know, however, that there is a whole lot more that goes into turning out a soup or stew your family or guests will rave over, than just the quality of the stock you use. There's layering of flavors, for example, that's really the key. Garnishes can play a key role in the final taste test, also.
Okay, I mentioned Cajun cooking a minute ago. Have you heard of the nearly reverent Cajun "trinity"? It's onions (usually yellow), bell peppers (usually green) and celery (usually light green. Note: If celery's not this color, you may think twice about using it.)
The French "trinity" (mirepoix) is usually carrots, onions and celery, chopped into either large or small pieces, depending on whether your recipe calls for a large or a small mirepoix.
You get the picture. What is an Italian trinity? Could be either of these or a combination.
Here is an example of starting a basic Italian soup, and layering flavors. There are no quantities for most ingredients, since this is just an example of layering. When you click on one of the Italian soup recipe links, you will get a complete recipe and everything will become clear to you:
Heat 2 T olive oil over medium heat. Just before adding the "trinity", add either 1 T butter, 1 T yogurt butter or 2 shakes of Butter Buds (dehydrated essence of real butter) to oil. Then add chopped or finely minced onions, green bell pepper and celery. (If using carrot mirepoix, add this now, also). All of these work fine in almost any Italian soup or stew recipe. The lower you have the heat, the longer you will have to enjoy the essence of these incredibly aromatic vegetables and the more of their tasty juices will be released.
Tip: Sprinkle some salt over the vegetables when you first add them, and they will release more juices faster. Cover the pan as you cook the vegetables, over low heat, and more juices will be retained.
Flip the vegetables a few times when you first add them to coat with oil and butter. (Push the pan out away from you and lift [flip] in a vertical circular motion.) Okay, okay, it's hard to explain in words, so just stir with a wooden spoon and practice the professional chefs' "flip" with only a couple of pieces of vegetable in the pan.
Now, add 2-3 cloves of sliced garlic. Why sliced? Because it has less tendency to burn than if it is minced. Just crush it a little with the flat of a knife and slice thinly.
After the garlic is combined in for a minute or two, add some wine. Let it evaporate for a couple of minutes and add some balsamic vinegar. It's hard to believe, I know, but any decent grade of balsamic vinegar "sweetens" a dish and adds a really excellent layer of flavor.
After the liquid is almost absorbed, add some ground herbs and spices. We like to buy at least some of our spices whole, then grind them in a spice-designated coffee grinder or spice grinder.
Sample herb and spice mixture for a basic Italian soup, (chicken, fish, beef, bean):
1/2 T sea or kosher salt
1 T black or Tellicherry pepper
1 T oregano
1 T onion powder
1 T basil
1 T sage (for chicken)
1 T thyme (for beef or fish)
1/2 T dry mustard
1/2 T fennel
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 T ground or finely chopped lemon or lime zest (for fish or chicken)
Try different combinations. You won't believe the difference in flavor! Now, that's an Italian soup recipe creation! Bella. Bellisimo!
You'll add half of the spices at this point in cooking, and the other half near the end of cooking.
Now, if there is no natural thickening agent in the soup you are making (potatoes or other starchy vegetable), you can add some flour at this point, about 2 T. Stir it in and let it absorb and combine with other ingredients.
Then, add whatever stock you're using, plus tomatoes, potatoes, whatever else is left. Let it all simmer for 20 minutes or so for flavors to marry; (if potatoes are in the recipe, you may need to let simmer for 30-35 minutes. Test their doneness with a fork or tooth pick).
Add meat near the end. If chicken or beef, brown in olive oil first. Or use chicken from the fine stock you made earlier (see the chicken stock recipe link above). If fish or shell fish, just add them in raw about 6-8 minutes before you plan on removing from the heat. (It will continue to cook for a time, so seafood does not have to be completely done before you remove the Italian soup or stew from the heat.)
Another good means of adding a flavor layer is to "infuse" your olive oil. Just add about 3-4 T extra virgin olive oil to a heated pan, and add a few sprigs of rosemary, basil, fennel tops, thyme, oregano, sage, tarragon, heck, almost anything. Try anchovies, (see cioppino). You won't believe what a wonderful aroma this will fill your house with, much less what an exquisite layer of flavor it will produce.
How about this tip for a finishing touch to an otherwise fairly bland Italian soup or stew recipe such as pasta e fagioli (aka pasta fasoule, et. al., basically pasta and bean soup), or basic minestrone. Be assured we do not have anything against traditional Italian soup and stew recipes. They are what they are. You may very well find them, however, rather boring and bland. The above basic layering technique, one with countless variation possibilities, will punch up a basic soup recipe considerably in a gourmet sense.
But for a really flavor-enhancing technique, try this with an otherwise rather ordinary Italian soup or stew recipe: chop up or mince a couple of cloves of garlic, add the juice of one fresh lime with to the garlic and put it all in a small bowl. Then add about 1/2 - 3/4's of a cup of either fresh chopped cilantro or basil. Put the mixture in the refrigerator while you prepare the soup so the flavors can marry. Add a teaspoon or so of this to each bowl when serving! You talk about adding a punch!
Okay, I hope this helps. Cooking great Italian soups is not hard, and it doesn't have to be time consuming if you use canned or boxed stock. (Try the boxed free range chicken stock that is now available in most regular grocery stores.) Remember, homemade stock is worth the effort -- if you have the time, and if you have the energy.
Buon Appetito from Chef Dave
The Villages, FL
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