Asti-Style Soup with Pork Ribs, Chickpeas, and Potatoes

Zuppa Astigiana con Costicine e Ceci

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • For

    4

    persons if served as a one-course meal for 6 if the first of two courses

Appears in

One of the major events of the year on many Italian farms, taking place as the season begins to cross the bridge between fall and winter, is the butchering of a pig. The Italian expression is fare il maiale, “do the pig.” Some farmers “do” it themselves; others hire a specialized crew. The law prescribes that the pig be dispatched instantly, but there are those who ignore that requirement and bleed it slowly to death, a procedure whose details I shall spare you. The justification for it is that if the hog loses most of its blood before it expires, there will be less of it in the meat, which will then taste better.

Once dead, the carcass is immediately divided into parts that suit various purposes: the hind thighs for prosciutto, the shoulders and neck for salami and sausage, the jowl and some lean meat for cotechino; selected parts of the fat are rendered to make cooking lard; the belly is spiced and rolled up or pressed down flat for pancetta. Many remaining cuts, the liver, the tenderloin, the ribs, are consumed later at a feast that celebrates the occasion as well as the end of a day that began at dawn.

My husband was in Piedmont on one of his periodic visits to wine producers, it was early December, and a family that had just “done” a pig asked us to join them for the dinner. Many came; several generations and branches of the family were represented, as well as a few friends. There were enough people for a large Handel chorus, and they certainly could have outshouted one, but every single mouth was needed because much was served: salami and prosciutto from the previous year, soup, risotto with fresh sausage, grilled pork liver wrapped in caul fat, breaded pork chops, roast pork tenderloin in red wine. I am sure you don’t want to hear about the peripheral courses, the homemade pickles, the three kinds of potatoes, the salads, the desserts.

The soup was this one, with fresh ribs. Alone, it is an amply satisfying meal for four.

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Ingredients

  • Two 16-ounce cans chickpeas
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup very thinly sliced onion
  • 1 tablespoon very finely chopped garlic
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves, chopped very, very fine
  • 1 pound pork short ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Salt
  • Black pepper ground fresh

Method

  1. Drain the chickpeas, and squeeze off the peel from each one. Set aside.
  2. Peel and wash the potatoes, and cut them into medium dice. You should have about 1 cup.
  3. Put the oil and sliced onion in a large saucepan and turn on the heat to medium. Cook the onion, stirring frequently, until it becomes colored a pale gold.
  4. Add the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, and when the garlic becomes colored a pale gold add the bay leaves, chopped rosemary, and ribs. With a wooden spoon, turn over all ingredients several times to coat them well.
  5. Add the skinned chickpeas, diced potatoes, salt, and liberal grindings of pepper, turning them over a few times with the other ingredients.
  6. When the contents of the pot begin to simmer, add enough water to cover, put a lid on the pot, and adjust heat to cook at a gentle but steady simmer. Cook for at least 1½ hours. Turn the soup’s ingredients over from time to time. If you should find, during the cooking, that the liquid needs replenishing, add ½ cup water whenever needed. When done, the soup should be liquid enough to eat with a spoon, but it ought to be dense rather than runny. Taste and correct for salt and pepper and, before serving, retrieve and discard the bay leaves.

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