CRAVE: Tuscan spring soup satisfies without being heavy
Soup season in Tuscany doesn’t end once spring begins, but it does mean the soups start to take a different tone.
Garmugia, for example, a specialty of the city of Lucca, bridges the seasons by marrying a hearty backbone of pancetta, meat stock, and ground beef or veal with freshly picked artichokes, peas, fava beans and asparagus — the first tender vegetables of spring. Like the season itself, garmugia bursts with contrasts, at once tender and bold, simultaneously lushly green yet robust and meaty.
Thought to have originated during the Renaissance era, garmugia was feast-worthy fare for the rich and powerful. Most Tuscan soups artfully repurpose scraps, but only the finest ingredients go into garmugia, a pairing of pricey meats and the season’s freshest vegetables.
For the garmugia-inspired soup from our book “Tuesday Nights Mediterranean,” which features weeknight-friendly meals from the region, we pared down on the meat but use pancetta and beef broth so the finished dish is satisfying without being heavy. And we simmer a Parmesan rind in the mix to boost the umami notes.
Canned artichoke hearts do well here, but frozen artichokes also work — just defrost and pat them dry before use (you’ll need about 2 cups). To serve on the side, we make savory Parmesan toasts that are perfect for dipping into the broth.
Make sure to not use too-slender asparagus, which will end up overcooked. Look for spears about the size of a pencil. And to retain the bright-green color of the peas, don’t allow the soup to boil after the peas are stirred in.
Tuscan-Style Spring Vegetable Soup
Start to finish: 30 minutes Servings: 4
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more to serve
3 to 4 ounces pancetta, chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced, whites and greens reserved separately
4 thyme sprigs
1½ quarts low-sodium beef broth
1 chunk Parmesan rind (optional), plus ½ ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (¼ cup)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
8 ounces crusty white bread, sliced ½ inch thick
14-ounce can artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained and quartered
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths on the diagonal
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
Heat the broiler with a rack about 6 inches from the element.
In a large saucepan over medium, combine 1 tablespoon of oil and the pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta has rendered its fat and begins to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the scallion whites and thyme. Cook until the scallions are lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broth, the Parmesan rind (if using) and ½ teaspoon pepper, then bring to a boil over medium-high.
Meanwhile, brush both sides of the bread slices with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil, then place in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan, then broil until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.
When the soup reaches a boil, add the artichokes, reduce to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus is just tender, 2 to 4 minutes.
Stir in the peas, reduce to medium-low and cook, stirring, until the peas are heated through, about 3 minutes; do not allow the soup to boil.
Off heat, remove and discard the thyme and Parmesan rind (if used).
Stir in the scallion greens, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with additional oil and serve with the Parmesan toasts.