Broccoli and Potato Soup

Zuppa di Broccoli e Patate


My spouse and collaborator loves broccoli stems, the thicker the better, and he loves them best boiled, served still lukewarm and generously doused in olive oil. The florets on the other hand he considers an accident of nature, and he refuses to touch them. I had bought magnificent broccoli one day whose stems I had made, as I have just described, for lunch. But I hated to throw away the florets—they were so fresh, the buds very tightly clustered and their color a deep blue-green. So I acted on the thrifty Italian cook’s principle that you can make a good soup out of anything.

In truth, I didn’t have just anything. I had excellent meat broth in the freezer, lovely waxy boiling potatoes in the kitchen’s potato basket, basil growing in a sunny window, a fresh piece of Parmesan, and those perfect broccoli florets. I prepared a base of onion sliced thin and cooked very slowly to absolute softness in olive oil and butter. Why use both? Because the oil does terrific things for green vegetables such as broccoli, whereas the butter imparts a luscious quality that helps all the flavors come together. Many cooks in the farm country of my native Romagna do the same.

The garlic was sliced very thin and I let it just steam briefly, buried in the faintly moist onion, so that it stayed very sweet, which is the flavor accent I wanted in this soup. The potatoes were cut into small dice so that they dissolved as they cooked and contributed silken texture. Just before bringing it to the table, I swirled in a little raw butter, the basil, and the Parmesan. Broccoli florets notwithstanding, Victor greeted the soup with applause.

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  • A large yellow onion, sliced very thin, about cups
  • Salt
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds broccoli
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and sliced very thin
  • 4 large boiling potatoes, peeled, washed, and cut into small dice
  • cups homemade meat broth or 1 bouillon cube dissolved in cups water
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • 6 to 8 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


  1. Put the onion, a large pinch of salt, all the olive oil, and 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan; turn on the heat to medium low, and cover the pan. Cook until the onion is completely tender and has become colored a light nut brown.
  2. Detach the broccoli florets from the stems, keeping the stems aside to use as suggested in the headnote above. If you want to use the stems in the soup, wash them, pare away their tough outer layer, and cut them into ¼-inch pieces. It will, however, become a different soup in consistency as well as appearance. Wash the florets under cold running water.
  3. When the onion is cooked, add the sliced garlic and leave the pan uncovered. Cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, without letting it become colored. Add the broccoli florets and a generous pinch of salt, and cook, turning the florets over from time to time, until they feel tender at the pricking of a fork.
  4. Add the diced potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, turning them over frequently. Then add the broth or cups water together with the bouillon cube. Cook until some the potatoes dissolve as you stir them. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons water if you find the soup becoming too dense. The final consistency should be loosely creamy, rather
  5. Taste and correct for salt, and add liberal grindings of black pepper. Swirl in the basil, the freshly grated Parmesan, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and serve at once.