May 1st sees the Teramo region of Abruzzo celebrating with Le Virtù, a big, strong & incredible soup the aim of which is to allow you to taste 28 ingredients individually, and for which the 48-hour cooking & preparation time is a true labour of love for any family to dine upon on May Day.
“7 kinds of legumes, pulses, 7 fresh vegetables, 7 types of pasta and 7 types of meat”
Its roots weave history, folklore and the very functional, something the inventive Abruzzesi are so very good at, in this case using up the remains of the dry store cupboard tastily. By the beginning of May, stockpiles of pulses and legumes from the previous year’s summer crops which had provided the much-needed protein over the hard winter were running low with just a little bit of each tasty ingredient remaining, which if combined could potentially provide a delicious feast. Meat was expensive and not something in the past many in the region could afford so like la cucina povera’s interpretation the world over, cheap cuts of meat, pigskin, trotters, ears, ham bones and such like added the jazz & flavoursome backbone to the dish with an adornment of pallottini. New crops such as peas and fava beans, spinach, and herbs including borage that were picked or foraged according to the severity of the winter are added for their delicate taste and vitamin burst.
A Day to Sleep it Off
On a social-historical level, the soup was used to give strength to the men for their work on the new crops, and to the nursing mothers who had traditionally given birth in Spring. After eating a home-cooked version today courtesy of my Italian teacher’s mamma & papa Sig. & Signora de Felice, the fortitude, heaviness and warmth it leaves you with would set you up to walk not just the Corno Grande and back but to the North Pole! Or perhaps just snuggle up in bed and sleep it off… it is a holiday after all!
Foods in the cupboard (or freezer) that you can combine to make Le Virtù if you feel like a tasty ‘Spring Clean’:
Dried Pulses & legumes – chickpeas, lentils, red beans, black-eyed beans, borlotti, cannellini, kidney beans, butter beans
Fresh Vegetables – peas, fava beans, courgettes, carrots, potatoes, chard, artichokes, chicory, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, fennel, onions, celery
Herbs & Spices – garlic, sage, thyme, parsley, dill, cloves, pepperoncini, mint, borage, fennel, basil, marjoram, thyme, parsley, and savory which was poor people’s black pepper and a salt substitute traditionally.
Meat – ham, pork rind, bacon, pork loin, trotter and pig ears, bacon, minced beef, meatballs (pallottini)
Pasta –hard wheat pasta, egg pasta both of differing size shape and colour, ravioli, tortellini
If you don’t have 48 hours to make this soup try the cheat’s version – this recipe takes 4 hours as opposed to 48 and you could cheat further by using shop-bought pasta instead of making it yourself as they do for the tortellini!
This post was linked to by The Guardian in their article – Italians Turn Back the Clock to Eat Cheaply in Recession