I’ve written about our pasta soup before, but since we eat it at least once a fortnight (and often, once a week), I thought it was worth a revisit.
It really is survival soup, put together from all the bits and pieces left over in the fridge. We often make it on a Thursday or Friday night, prior to going to the markets, to use up all the odds and ends in the vegetable drawer. As a result, it varies from week to week, which keeps it interesting.
The soup is constructed from pantry ingredients that we always have on hand. Here’s a breakdown of what we use:
1. Something to flavour the stock. Normally ham bones that our friends at Paesanella save for us, but you could also just use packaged stock, or even, at a pinch, stock powder. If you’re buying stock, get a one litre carton – don’t buy the salt reduced, as we normally dilute it down by 50% with water anyway. Lately, I’ve also been adding parmesan rinds to my soups – another gift from Paesanella. That’s the tripe looking thing in the bowl of soup above, and a couple of pieces can add a surprising amount of flavour to the soup.
2. Lentils. I always keep four types of lentils in the fridge, including these Australian blues, which are now readily available. I try and use a mix of red or green lentils (which melt into the soup) and blue ones (which keep their shape during cooking). If you can’t get lentils, you can always use tinned beans (well drained), boiled chick peas, or any other sort of legume that takes your fancy.
3. Pasta. This can be any sort, although we prefer smaller pasta to larger shapes. Today, we were all out of soup pasta, so I broke up nests of egg noodles which were hiding in the back of the pantry. You could also break spaghetti into little pieces, or even use filled pasta if you like. We’ve made this soup with all those options and more.
4. Any vegetables or leftover meats you can find. This is the best bit of the soup – it allows you to clear out the fridge and use up leftovers. Our dinner tonight had tomatoes, carrots, a leek (including the green bits), and some old Swiss brown mushrooms, as well as two leftover sausages and a couple of slices of last night’s roast beef. Everything is optional here, so use whatever you have on hand.
The cooking process is simple.
Put the ham bones in a large pot, cover them with water, and bring to a boil. After half an hour or so, de-fat the hot stock. If you don’t have ham bones, you can also achieve a delicious flavour with smoked bacon bones (rib bones) or even a bacon hock. Or just open a one litre carton of stock and pour it into the pot (if you do that, add a litre of water as well).
Next, rinse the lentils and check them for small stones, before adding to the soup with the parmesan rinds and vegetables. Simmer uncovered, until the lentils soften. Add more water if necessary. Taste the stock to see if it needs any seasoning. Sometimes we add flavourings at this point – a little Herbie’s Chermoula Spice mix is our usual addition, but you could add any herbs or spices you prefer. Once the soup tastes good and the lentils are cooked, pull out the bones and salvage any edible bits off them and return these to the pan with any other meat you might have (in our case, the sausage and leftover beef).
Bring the whole thing to a boil, then add the pasta, and cook until the noodles expand and soften. Ladle into bowls and serve with a little grated Parmesan and a grinding of black pepper.
This soup is surprisingly appealing to children, and quite a good way to get lots of vegetables into them. Small Man’s record is six bowls in one sitting!