10-Minute, Water-to-Wine Soup, Grandma Style
I feel so much like her tonight. Pushing back the covers past midnight, pressing the balls of my feet lightly over the ever-aging creek of the pine floor as to not wake him or the dog, shuffling down the stairs with hunger creeping up inside of me, probably coming on stronger because of the baby girl I harbor.
We always said she turned water into wine (read: soup) in a couple of minutes. The joke was she’d mix some water, crushed noodles, wilted salad, and pecorino and there would be the heartiest meal one could imagine. As much as each of her grandchildren grew strong out of this Italian-American-Depression-era broth, I think it also secretly kind of pissed some of us off in adulthood with something akin to jealousy, coveting her hand. Or eye. Or magic, I don’t know. I mean, she’s so haphazard, throwing this and that “little bit” into the pot, and bam. Soup. She had no recipe to give, no cooking lessons to offer. Just the comfort of warmth in your bones as she grated pecorino generously on top with her wiry, blue-veined hands. Of course that’s what soup is, right? Water and the leftovers of the day. And still, as much as many of us turned to cooking as a part of our joy and our identity in the family, we still never touched her soup.
In learning to cook soup, I sought the path of the French during times of gastronomical abundance. Roast a chicken stuffed with hearty root vegetables, a bouquet garni and slathered thick butter. Then boil the bones and drippings of that chicken for hours, with more vegetables and onions. Then strain those bones, and use the broth as a base to a dark, rich-bodied soup that took all day to cook, garnishing it with huge hunks of the previously roasted meat, new herbs, a combination of the roasted root vegetables sliced up such as parsnips, turnips, carrots and purple onions, with new ones for a clean look and complex flavor. Finish off with a handful of fresh greens—arugula, or kale, or spinach or chard, whatever is on hand. Top with a dash of balsamic or saba vinegar and a splatter of olive oil, and you’re good to go. A far cry from the 10 minute water to wine soup she used to make.
Until tonight. When I crept past my sleeping husband and passed-out pup towards the kitchen, to an empty fridge and emptier stomach, the product of just returning home after days away and getting over a terrible stomach virus that depleted my body of all nutrients. It finally took having little to nothing on hand to call on the familial instincts of my grandmother. “I have little to work with. Think. I’m hungry. What’s in the pantry. The freezer. This baby needs nutrients.” And thus, a water-to-wine soup was born in ten minutes flat. Orzo boiled in chicken broth with kale, egg and a few mushrooms. Bam. Somehow, light and clean is equally as complex as dark and rich-boiled. And I began to understand why to her, there is never a recipe (at least for soup). Because there’s never one way to make it. It really does depend on what’s on hand. It’s a combination of scarcity, hunger and pantry, stirred together with a bit of ingenuity and pecorino (for even in scarcity, she has pecorino…). And so, even though I shall break the rule of no recipes for 10-minute water-to-wine soup, I must share it here, at least to honor Grandma Ree.
- Pour some chicken broth in a pot and bring to a rolling boil (here I used low-sodium carton chicken broth)
- Add a handful of orzo and reduce heat to medium high
- Dig around in your pantry. Find an herb of your liking (or herb blend)
- Add a dash of that herb (I used herbes de provence)
- Find a handful of some wilted old greens you left in the fridge a week ago ( I found old kale…shame on me)
- Tear pieces of the greens off and drop into boiling broth
- Beat an egg in a bowl with salt and pepper
- With a fork, drip the egg into the soup
- If you have one or a couple, pull a mushroom out of the fridge or freezer (they freeze well for soup!)
- Slice and add to soup
- Cook another minute
- Bowl up and sit down. Grate Pecorino that is always on hand
- (If you are like me, and your “always on hand” is truffle oil, even be it cheap truffle oil from TJ Maxx (I hear you gasp, oh true purist-foodist friends and true lovers of French truffles! well I admit, on a slim budget I keep mine on hand from TJ’s…), splash on a dash in the end).
VOILA. 10 minutes or less (and 2 or less to eat it).
Enjoy with the crusty old bread that is stale and you forgot to freeze before leaving town.
Xoxo. Thank you Gram. I suppose I shall never starve because of you.