Sopa Coada

Squab Soup

In Its richness, in its monumentally robust flavor, squab soup makes me think of legendary feasts in some earlier, hardier century. It is, in fact, one of the oldest dishes in the cuisine of the Veneto, its roots perhaps too deep to establish its provenance exactly. Its origin is attributed, depending on the scholar, to Verona, to Treviso, to one or another of the Veneto’s towns. The version I have liked the best was in Treviso, whose home cooking may be the most interesting in all Italy, and this recipe is based on that.

The squab are first pan-roasted in butter, with a soffritto of carrots and celery, until the meat is fully cooked. They are then boned, combined with sautéed bread slices, Parmesan, broth, and baked for 3 hours.

In my preceding books I shrank from putting in a dish so laborious to prepare. Then, one evening, I was surprised to be served excellent sopa coada made by Susan Lescher, the literary agent. If a busy woman and young mother like Susan could tackle it, I decided some of my readers might. To compensate for the long preparation, sopa coada can be done far in advance and it is so satisfying that you need cook little else to go with it.

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Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, plus additional butter for smearing the baking dish
  • ½ cup onion cut into very thin slices
  • ½ cup carrot chopped very fine
  • ½ cup celery chopped very fine
  • 2 squab, washed inside and out and split lengthwise in two
  • Salt
  • Black pepper in a grinder
  • cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 slices good country-style bread trimmed of its crust
  • A deep ceramic or earthenware oven-to-table baking dish with cover
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)
  • 4 or more cups Homemade Meat Broth

Method

  1. Choose a sauté pan that can subsequently accommodate the squab without overlapping. Put in 4 tablespoons of the butter and the onion and turn on the heat to medium high.
  2. When the onion becomes very lightly colored, add the carrot and celery. Cook the vegetables, turning them from time to time, until they take on a little color.
  3. Put in the squab skin side down. Brown them well on that side, then turn them and brown the other side. Add salt and several grindings of pepper.
  4. Add the wine, let it bubble for about 1 minute, then turn the heat down to very low and cover the pan. Cook the squab, turning them occasionally, until the meat comes easily off the bone and is cooked through and through.
  5. Remove the birds from the pan. Detach their skin and discard it. Remove all the bones and put the meat in a bowl. Add the vegetables from the pan, lifting them with a slotted spoon or spatula so as to leave all the fat in the pan.
  6. Put the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and all the vegetable oil in a small skillet and turn on the heat to medium. When the fat is sizzling hot, slip in the bread, as many slices at a time as will fit without overlapping. When the side facing the bottom of the pan has formed a light brown crust, turn and brown the other side. Transfer them with a slotted spoon or spatula to blot on a platter lined with paper towels. Repeat the procedure until all the bread is done.
  7. Turn on the oven to 300°.
  8. Smear a thin coating of butter on the bottom of the baking dish. Place 4 slices of bread in the dish to cover the bottom. Over the bread put the squab and the vegetables and any juice in the bowl. Sprinkle half the grated cheese on top. Cover with the remaining bread and top with the remaining grated cheese. Pour enough broth into the dish to cover the ingredients amply. Cover the dish and place in the middle level of the preheated oven. Bake for 3 hours. Check the broth level from time to time and add more if necessary. Serve directly from the dish in soup plates.

Serving Suggestions

It is a memorable meal, elegant and deeply satisfying, all by itself. To offset its weight, I would precede it with Tomatoes Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Chives, and before getting to dessert, follow it with Lemon, Cucumber, and Pepper Salad.

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