Zuppa di Zucchine all’Amalfitana

Zucchini Soup, Amalfi Style

This recipe was given to me by my friend Pierino Jovene from Amalfi. Pierino is a cook of dazzling skill who owns a seafood restaurant in my hometown of Cesenatico. The restaurant is called Il Gambero Rosso, the red shrimp. Its fame is large enough to draw customers from all Italy.

Pierino is as gifted a storyteller as he is a cook; I wish I could reproduce in English syllables the melodious cadence of his Neapolitan speech. I shall be content if I have succeeded in duplicating the lyrical flavor of his ravishing soup.

The essential element that brings this soup to life is freshness. The zucchini must be young and firm; the tomatoes honestly ripened; the potatoes, if possible, new waxy boiling potatoes. And the basil! Although parsley is a tolerable substitute, what you really want is the crowning fragrance of young basil.

You will notice that half the potatoes are chopped very fine. This is so they will dissolve in the soup and thicken it. The zucchini must be cooked until very soft, but not mushy. In another extraordinary version of this dish, Pierino uses zucchini blossoms instead of zucchini. If you have a source for blossoms, by all means try it, following the same cooking procedure.

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Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons pancetta chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon onion chopped fine
  • cup fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • cup potato peeled and chopped very fine
  • cup potato peeled and diced into ½-inch pieces
  • Salt
  • Black pepper in a grinder
  • ¾ pound zucchini, thoroughly scrubbed and cut up into ½-inch pieces, about 2 cups
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)
  • 4 or 5 basil leaves, or 1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Method

  1. Put the olive oil, pancetta, and onion in a soup pot and turn on the heat to medium. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the onion becomes colored a rich gold.
  2. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more.
  3. Add both the chopped and diced potatoes and enough water to cover—about 1 cup. Add salt and grindings of pepper liberally, cover the pot, and continue cooking over medium heat until all the potatoes are tender.
  4. Put in the zucchini, add more water to cover, and cook over low heat with the pot covered until the zucchini are very tender. When the zucchini are done, check the consistency of the soup. If it is extremely dense, add a little more water. But bear in mind that this is meant to be a thick soup.
  5. Break open the egg into a soup plate or small bowl and beat it lightly with a fork. With the heat turned down very low, pour the egg in a thin stream into the pot, mixing thoroughly all the while with a wooden spoon.
  6. Turn off the heat and mix the grated cheese into the soup. Tear the basil leaves into tiny pieces and add them (or the chopped parsley) to the soup. Mix once or twice, pour the soup into individual plates or bowls, and serve after a few minutes’ rest when it has cooled off slightly.

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