In the dead of winter, nothing is more warming than this hearty soup from the Piedmontese town of Casale Monferrato. Milanese cooks prepare a similar soup called cisrà, originally made with a pig’s head and traditionally served on November I, the Day of the Dead. Pork skin, or rind, is used in this soup, an exotic ingredient for many cooks outside Italy. Called cotenna or cotica, it is the outer skin of the pig, and although it is not essential, you might try to talk your butcher into setting some aside for you. It will add to the flavor of the soup. You can freeze the skin, so you will have it on hand when you need it. Although this recipe is from a Parmesan cheese region, I think that pecorino adds just the right note of tart and salt.
Season the pork ribs with salt and a generous amount of black pepper and set aside.
Drain the chickpeas, transfer to a Dutch oven, and add water to cover by about
Drain the chickpeas and return them to the pot. Add the boiling salted water, pork skin (if using), onions, garlic, sage, parsley, chile pepper flakes (if using), tomato sauce, ribs, potatoes, and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Bring the soup to a gentle boil over medium heat, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the chickpeas are soft, the ribs are tender, and the potatoes are falling apart and have thickened the soup, about 1½ hours.
Remove the ribs and set them aside until they are cool enough to handle. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Remove the meat from the pork bones, cut up any large pieces, and return the meat to the pot. Reheat the soup to serving temperature.
Place a slice of bread in the bottom of each warmed bowl. Ladle in the soup, sprinkle generously with cheese, and serve.
For a local red, drink Barbera. A hearty red from Apulia or Campania, such as Salice Salentino or Taurasi, respectively, would also be a fine foil for this equally hearty soup.
© 2004 Joyce Goldstein. All rights reserved.