This has become known as The Soup. I was in the car with my boyfriend a few months ago talking about what we were going to eat (he is Italian and takes food very seriously indeed, often just closing his eyes and saying, wistfully; ‘Cibo.’). He said he wanted soup with chickpeas in it. There is this awful grey soup everyone loves in Italy, a kind of broth with loads of stuff in it, all flavour and colour extracted, and it makes me want to throw a handful of chillis, some coriander and some noodles into it. So I did.
That night we came home and I went through my Caucasian cookbooks because soups in Central Asia and in the Middle East (you know that amazing Egyptian lentil soup with lemons in it, a bit like dahl but nicer?) are so delcious. I crammed three different recipes into each other and made the greatest soup of all time ever. You can put whatever you like in it really, and it is heaven. A bit grey (unless you throw herbs in right at the end which would be a good idea come to think of it) but unbelievably good. My mum said it was the nicest thing she’d ever eaten.
Okay, so…do this:
Fry a piece of beef/a few chicken thighs/a wodge of lamb in olive oil with one or two chopped onions and one or two chopped carrots. Don’t chop anything finely. Big chunks here. You can also throw some potato in at this stage. One big potato in chunks or some new potatoes whole or halved. If you’re going to put noodles in later then maybe omit the potato or, if you’re hungry, have both. The meat should have bones in it, whichever meat you use.
While this is all frying, add a teaspoon of salt, a heaped teaspoon of pepper, as much fresh chilli (dried is okay but not flakes please) as you like, also a teaspoon of cumin. When the meat is browned cover all this with boiling water (you can add more as you go along if it boils away). Here I chuck in some kosher chicken stock powder out of a yellow tub, but you could add a stock cube or, since you are basically making fresh stock as you do this, nothing.
Then add two pierced dried limes, a couple of bayleaves and some saffron strands. At this point I leave it simmering for an hour or more. (NB. All three of the moshed together soups here have two tablespoons of pomegranate molasses in them here, but Massimo is allergic to sugar so I don’t put it in. I should think it would be nice though). Then, fish the meat out, take the bone/s out and put the meat back in, cut up. This soup would be even more delicious (if that’s possible) if you could bear to leave it overnight at this stage, but I can’t imagine anyone being able to do this because it smells so amazingly good.
Now put a can of chickpeas in (obviously, you could soak some overnight and blah blah blah if you were immortal) and lots of cavolo nero/any other cabbage/a bag of spinach. When I say lots I mean lots. If you’ve bought a bag of cavolo nero or spinach, then all of it. The pan (and I’m using the biggest Le Creuset casserole) should be overflowing with the greens so it’s hard to get the lid on to wilt it. Cram the lid on until the greens have wilted and you can stir them in. Also at this stage you can add green beans, mange touts, sugar snap peas, peas, broad beans, asparagus (you get the picture). You could also add your two minute or straight to wok egg noodles or fat udon noodles now.
The vegetables only need a few minutes – you don’t want them to go soggy, so this is final stages. Then, the last thing – in a blender or pestle and mortar, grind up a teaspoon of salt, four fat cloves of garlic and 100g or more of walnuts (toast them if you feel the urge) to almost a paste. Then stir the paste into the soup. Fish the dried limes out and throw fresh coriander and parsley on top.
EEEEEEEAT! This is rich and wonderful so don’t eat crap bread with it, please. Gorgeous fresh sour dough, lightly toasted and, in a dream world, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. This is how we ate it last night. Also a big salad – spinach, beetroot, spring onions, feta, more walnuts, toasted, red pepper hacked up and…that’s it. I made a really sharp mustardy dressing made with the red wine that my son’s friend Gabriel spat out and said I should use as vinegar. I did. Excellent. Good tip, Gabz.