Acquacotta is the perfect in-between-season soup when it’s still cold outside but you are thinking about spring. The literal translation of the name of this traditional Tuscan soup is “cooked water”, which doesn’t sound very appealing, but truly is rich, savory, and satisfying. This is a rustic peasant dish and there is really no one true recipe for it since many years ago, it was made with bits and pieces of leftover vegetables and bread. The soup was often poured over crusty (stale) bread and topped with a soft-cooked egg. This version adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, uses chicken stock instead of water and thickens the soup with beaten egg and canned bean juice.
The secret to a rich and savory soup made with simple ingredients is to build layers of flavor. Finely chop the vegetables (I like to use the food processor). Use high quality extra virgin olive oil and use the full ½ cup for the soffritto. It sounds like a lot of oil, but it adds to the richness of the soup. Soffritto in Italian means fry slowly in olive oil. Be sure to cook the soffritto for the full 12-15 minutes. Follow the timing in each step. Try to find escarole. Escarole is a member of the chicory family, though not as bitter as some, and is a popular ingredient in Italian cuisine. It can be cooked or eaten raw. The outer leaves are best for cooking and the tender inner leaves are delicious raw in salads. Escarole is not always available, but it will make the most authentic and flavorful soup. Curly endive is a good substitute. Savoy cabbage, kale, and chard are acceptable, but lack the slight bitterness that is so additive to the Acquacotta. Serve it Italian style, ladled over a crusty slice of bread or with homemade Toasted Cheese Croutons.
Acquacotta (Traditional Tuscan Soup)
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less to your taste)
- 1 (28-ounce) can chopped Italian tomatoes or a jar of Mezzetta Spicy Marinara
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 1 small piece Parmigiano rind (optional)
- 1 fennel bulb, cut into small dice
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, well drained – reserve canning liquid
- 1 small head escarole (about 10 ounces), trimmed and cut into small pieces
- 2 egg yolks
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon fennel fronds for garnishing
- Grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese for serving
- Finely chop the onion, celery and garlic in a food processor. If you don’t use a food processor, chop the vegetables as finely as possible. Transfer mixture to stock pot or Dutch oven, along with olive oil, salt and pepper flakes.
- Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, for 12-15 minutes. The onions will begin to brown and stick to the pan.
- Stir in tomatoes (or marinara), cook stirring frequently, until mixture is very thick, about 10 minutes.
- Add broth, Parmigiano rind if using, fennel bulb and oregano to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until fennel begins to soften, 5-7 minutes.
- Add drained beans and escarole and cook until fennel is fully tender, about 10 minutes.
- Whisk egg yolks and reserved bean liquid together in a bowl, then stir into soup. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 3 minutes.
- Stir in parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Serve with fennel fronds and grated cheese.