This is the dish that opens the great Christmas Day feast in Neapolitan households. It's called Minestra Maritata, or married soup, presumably because of the highly successful marriage of rich meat stock and slightly bitter greens. It's a beautiful dish—dark winter greens and clear amber broth—with origins that go back to the 16th century. In days of yore, all sorts of animal parts were used to add substance to the broth for this soup, including pig's ears (lots of cartilage there to give body to the both) and guanciale, or cured pork cheeks. The modern version is simpler, with more familiar meats and a variety of greens that are not generally available in America—borage and chicory shoots, for instance. If you happen to have such things in your garden, by all means include them.
Warming Soup Recipes
1 stewing hen or chicken (3 to 4 pounds)
1 pound veal or beef shank
1 pound country-style pork ribs
2 celery ribs, including the leafy tops, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 to 2 small dried red chiles
About 6 quarts cold water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 pounds fresh greens, cored and stemmed as necessary, including any or all
of the following: escarole, chicory, dandelion and broccoli rabe
Freshly grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese
How to Make It
In a very large stockpot, combine the hen, veal shank, pork ribs, celery, carrots, garlic and dried chiles. Add enough of the water to just cover the meats and bring to a simmer over moderately low heat. Add a large pinch of salt and pepper and reduce the heat to low. Cover partially and cook until the broth is very flavorful, about 3 hours.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the fresh greens in 2 or 3 batches until just tender, 5 to 8 minutes; if you are using a combination of greens, cook each variety separately. Drain the greens and when they're cool enough to handle, squeeze them dry. Coarsely chop the greens.
When the broth is done, remove the hen, veal shank and pork ribs. Strain the broth through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Remove all the meat from the hen, veal shank and pork ribs and cut into bit-size pieces.
Skim the fat from the surface of the broth and pour it into a clean stockpot, stopping when you reach the solids at the bottom. Add the meats and greens to the broth and bring just to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper and serve piping hot in rimmed soup plates. Pass the cheese at the table.
The soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Serve an Italian sparkling wineperhaps a nonvintage Zardetto Proseccoor a fruity, dry regional white, such as Regaleali Nozze d'Oro, to offset the bitter greens.
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