I love winter time. I could very easily live in a relatively cold climate all year round. If they cancelled summer, I would be a happy camper, that’s for sure. Now, I don’t mind the temperature around 15 degrees Celsius. Anything hotter than this, I just do not like or appreciate. The only good thing about hotter weather is I can grow summer vegetables. Mind you, the scorching hot weather of over 37 degrees Celsius tends to fry certain plants in the vegetable garden. This is why my husband has slowly been installing a mesh canopy over most of the vegie patch. The benefits of a mesh canopy in winter here is a bonus too as this keeps the nightly frost out of the patch. The light mesh is sufficient to really take the stress out of plants, both with summer heat and winter cold. The mesh, in effect, has created a microclimate which means the growing season has extended at both ends.
We had a cold snap a few days ago. I decided to make up some Rib Sticker Soup. I developed this soup years ago when I first started growing our own pumpkins when we lived in the Central Highlands of Victoria where the winters were cold with the occasional snowfall. In that type of climate, you really need a hot meal that will “stick to your ribs” as we say here in Australia – substantial fare that will warm you up from the inside out. We live on one acre these days in beautify dairy country. Our small orchard hosts two pumpkin patches each season. I also grow bush pumpkins for variety. I end up growing three types of pumpkins altogether this past season – Waltham Butternut, Jap (Kent) pumpkins and those cannonball sized, lovely warty orange bush pumpkins. This is what we have left from the autumn pumpkin harvest. A couple of neighbours received pumpkins from us as did my dear brother who took some home on his last visit here. I leave the pumpkins outside on the back verandah in my old nursery trolley in the cold temperatures. The cold weather helps to keep the pumpkins longer. I must inspect daily though for any signs of rats as those bastards stop at nothing. You can see part of Priscilla our Maltese in the window. I wrote about Prissy and her blindness in last week’s blog.
I had half a Jap pumpkin left over from making roast pumpkin risotto the other day so it was a no brainer to make up a soup to use the other half. I also included one smallish bush pumpkin to the vegetable count. I have to explain here that we largely exist on a Mediterranean style diet in this house with meat making a rare appearance at the table. I always decide the relative success or failure of any meal I prepare by the amount of vegetables present on the plate. As I have explained in another blog, vegetables for me have always been the star attraction of any meal; meat a distinct second by a long shot. As you can see, we had quite a haul of pumpkins, despite the once in 100 year drought in this beautiful region. I did a lot of hand watering of both patches this summer past and I had to hand pollinate to grow approximately half of these beauties. Divine intervention was not enough for a good haul this year as we had an extremely humid summer which nearly knocked off the vines. Hand pollination ensured a reasonable harvest.
You need a generous sized soup pot for this recipe. I start off with a generous amount of sliced up leek, onion and bacon for this soup. I also add carrot, potato and two types of pumpkin, along a jar of tomato passata. I only used half the Jap pumpkin and not the entire pumpkin sitting on the cutting board. The other peeled and cut up vegetable is a bush pumpkin. I never peel carrots or potatoes as most of the vitamins lie just underneath the skin. One of those 900 mil commercial jars will do just fine for this soup if you do not bottle your own.
Rough chop the vegetables and then set to sauteing the leeks, onion and bacon pieces until the blend is translucent with just a hint of gold colouration. The chopped vegetables are added to the pot with around 2 1/2 litres of boiling water. I add a few bay leaves from the tree out back, salt and pepper and some freshly chopped up herbs such as marjoram and oregano. The passata is added along with one large chicken stock cube. You will need around 2 cups of soaked cannellini beans. You could used canned beans but the home cooked version are really the best and cheapest to prepare and have the most flavour. You can read up on how to prepare and cook dried cannellini beans in this blog here. Do not add the beans until the vegetables are cooked through and the soup is blended.
All the pot contents are simmered for around 30 minutes. Remove the bayleaves and shove in a stick blender to reduce everything to a nice, thick tangerine coloured pulp. After pulping, add the cooked up cannellini beans and around 1/2 a cup of small pasta (“pastina” in Triestin patois). I have a particularly nostalgic fondness for alphabet and star pasta (“stelline” – little stars) so I tend to use this. My brother and used to love this pastina in brodo when we were knee high to a grasshopper as we used to enjoy picking out the alphabet letters. Another excellent pasta addition to Rib Sticker Soup is Risoni which translates as “big rice” in Italian. Risoni look like creamy rice grains but really is made from pasta.
Continue simmering Rib Sticker Soup for another 20 minutes or until the pastina is cooked through. As usual, dig out a bit of pasta and taste it. The pasta should be nice and slippery between your teeth with no gritty bits. If you find any gritty bits of pasta, cook the soup for a further 5-10 minutes. Watch out after adding the pastina because the soup will tend to stick.
Turn off the soup and mix in a quantity of basil pesto. I make my own pesto in late summer and freeze blocks of it to use year round. You can add some freshly made pesto or some out of a jar. The jar variety of pesto will not be as intensely flavoured as the fresh or frozen version. Swirl the pesto cube if you are using these around the soup until the cube is fully melted. Add around 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese to the pot and stir through. Rib Sticker Soup is now ready to enjoy.
Rib Sticker Soup is an unctuous and delicious soup for the cold time of the year. Serve this with a simple salad or even just a hunk of good pasta dura bread for a delicious meal that is once again centred on vegetables and beans. I think the best meals are often the simplest. This is my favourite rib sticker soup to enjoy whilst watching my favourite football team.
Here’s a variation on Rib Sticker Soup. I added around 500 grams of cooked up and pureed silverbeet (Swiss Chard). You could add a couple of 250 grams packets of frozen spinach but the flavour won’t be as intense as home grown greens. Rib Sticker Soup tastes even better the next day when the flavours have coalesced and mellowed and the soup thickens even more. Enjoy this seven vegetable meal.