Sauerkraut and Barley Soup

Jota

Jota was once the staple daily diet of the inhabitants of the Carso mountain villages around the lovely city of Trieste. This was an area where genuine hunger and poverty was a reality until very recently. A book published in 1898, called Guida alla Carnia, tells of how, in an enormous area covering most of the mountain and its valleys, Jota was almost all there was to eat.

There are countless versions of this soup - with meat and without, with barley or with beans or both - but the basic theme is always the same: a nourishing, thick and satisfying meal, made from a few readily available ingredients.

Here is my favourite version of Jota (which also happens to be the simplest!), adapted from a very old recipe from Gorizia. Sauerkraut is about as German-tasting as anything you can get, showing this region’s very strong Austro-Hungarian influences. To this basic soup, you can add chopped radicchio, celery, lettuce or pork. Serve it with plenty of rye bread and butter.

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Ingredients

  • 5 oz (150 g) smoked pancetta or smoked streaky bacon, chopped
  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely
  • 1 handful parsley, chopped
  • 6 fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 3–4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 oz (25 g) unsalted butter
  • 4 oz (100 g) pork dripping or fat cut from a joint of pork, chopped
  • 7 oz (200 g) dried beans (such as borlotti or cannellini), soaked overnight in cold water, boiled for 5 minutes and drained
  • 7 oz (200 g) pearl barley, soaked overnight in cold water, and drained
  • pints (2.5 litres) meat stock
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 7 oz (200 g) sauerkraut
  • salt and pepper

Method

Fry the pancetta or bacon, onion, parsley, sage and garlic in the butter and dripping or pork fat until the onion is soft. Add the beans, barley and stock. Bring to the boil and add the potatoes, cover and simmer for about 2 hours or until everything is very soft and almost disintegrating. You may need to add a little more stock or water as the soup cooks if it appears to be thickening too much. Stir in the sauerkraut and season to taste. Return the soup to the boil, give it one last stir and serve.

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