BROCCOLI SOUP WITH PASTA (ITALIAN)
This is the season when the weather in these parts bounces back and forth between hot and cool, and yesterday being a cool one, the idea of a rich, hearty soup seemed just right. This one's almost meatless (except for the chicken broth) and could be turned pure vegetarian by substituting more broccoli water for the broth.
This one's fairly faithful to the source (Marcella Hazan's More Classic Italian Cooking), but I used store-bought soup pasta rather than fooling around making manfrigul, and altered the procedure somewhat to minimize the time the broccoli stayed on the heat. Overcooked broccoli is not my favorite food ...
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, sliced very thin
Dried red pepper flakes to taste (don't overdo)
2 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup peperini (or any very tiny soup pasta)
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano Reggiano to taste
Wash the broccoli, cut off and separate the florets, and set aside. Peel the stalks, discard the hard ends, and cut them into quarters.
Cook the broccoli stalks in salted water, covered, for two or three minutes, then add the florets and cook for two minutes more, just long enough so they turn dark green. Drain, but reserve two cups of the cooking water (or more, if you plan to substitute it for the broth).
Sautee the thin-sliced garlic and the red-pepper flakes in the olive oil in a large, nonstick sautee pan until the garlic starts turning gold. Add the broccoli, stir several times until it's well coated with oil, and let it cook, stirring occasionally, for another 2 or 3 minutes. You want to get the florets just barely cooked but still crisp-tender. Fish out the florets with a slotted spoon and set them aside in a bowl. Dump the stalks, the garlic and the remaining oil into a Cuisinart or blender and process with a couple of ounces of the broccoli water until it's pureed.
Bring the chicken broth and 1 cup broccoli water to a boil, and add the soup pasta. Let it cook, stirring often, for five minutes, then add the broccoli- garlic puree and continue cooking for five minutes more. Add a little more broccoli water if it becomes too thick. Add the florets at the end, and cook only until they're heated through. Serve with Parmigiano on the side for adding at the table.
This is such a flavorful vegetable soup that it actually stood up to a red wine, a Coteaux du Languedoc from Southern France. With crusty bread, it's a meal in itself.