Another comforting recipe from my beloved homeland Abruzzo.
If you want to translate the name of this dish it would be a peculiar one, Virtues. This relates to the only virtues that poor farmers could show in the past, the amazing vegetable selection that nature provides in-between seasons. In fact, tradition wants for every household that prepares the Virtù in Abruzzo, to do it in abundance on May the 1st, a symbolic date between the colder months and the first rays of summer.
In this minestrone alike soup, the ingredients list has to be kept loose as every family has its own. The only rule to respect is to clear the pantry from wintery dry legumes, use cheese rinds, stale bread, and pork offcuts, and add vibrant spring veggies. Usually, a mix of pasta shapes is used as it was a necessity in the past to clear out all the open bags of pasta with a few pieces left in them. (If you want to keep it vegetarian/vegan, you can by avoiding the meat/cheese).
With the help of Rustichella d’Abruzzo, I didn’t have to search for opened bags of pasta in my pantry as they have provided me with their purposely made mix of pasta shapes called in fact ‘Virtù’. Very convenient as it all cooks together with the same timings.
My Virtù recipe differs from the most traditional ones as it is quite quick and I cook some of the veggies separately rather than having a single pot bubbling away for hours. A bit more effort but quicker and more vibrant.
Feel absolutely free to reduce, increase or change the variety of veggies used in my recipe below to make your own version of Virtù Abruzzese.
Preparation Time: 1.5 h
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
200 g of Virtù ‘Rustichella d’Abruzzo’
1 red onion
1 celery stalk
1 spring onion
100 g of wild garlic
1 plum tomato
100 g of any green leaves (chicory/swiss chard/spinach)
50 g of frozen peas
50 g of frozen broad beans
1 sprig of thyme (or any other herb)
80 g of cooked chickpeas (store-bought is ok if you don’t want to cook your own)
80 g of cooked lentils (store-bought is ok if you don’t want to cook your own)
1 spoon of pesto (basil/rocket) to garnish, optional
4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
20.g of butter
Salt and pepper to taste
For the 2 lt stock
2 Grana Padano cheese rind
1 Prosciutto bone (or pork rind/trimmings)
For the mini meatballs:
200 g of minced meat (usually rose veal or beef)
1 tsp of grated pecorino or Grana Padano cheese
Plain flour to dust
Salt, nutmeg, and pepper (to taste)
Start by preparing the stock.
Blanch the prosciutto-bone (or pork rind) into boiling water for about 5 minutes. Discard the water and place the bone into a clean pot. Pour in about 3 lt of cold water, add the cheese rind and all the vegetable and herbs trimmings that you will have during the preparation of the recipe. Add a pinch of salt and simmer gently for about 1.5 h.
For the mini meatballs mix the minced meat with the grated cheese and season with a good pinch of salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Knead well until smooth.
Now start with the making of the meatballs by rolling a little quantity of meat mix in the palm of your hands. They should be between 2 and 4 gr maximum. During the process, a little drop of oil on your palms could help a little.
Heat a drizzle of oil in a frying pan, dust the meatballs with flour and add them to the pan. Increase the heat and toss the meatballs gently around the pan. When they start to color, add the butter and let them caramelize for a couple of minutes. When golden, remove from the pan and set aside.
Wash and chop all the vegetables in similar sizes.
In a large saucepan start by fry the sprig of thyme in olive oil, then add the onion, celery, chilly, and carrot. Season with salt and cook gently for about 2 minutes. Add ladles hot stock as you go when necessary. Now add the potatoes, cover with a lid and cook gently for another 2 minutes.
While the soup base cooks, blanch peas and broad beans in salted boiling water.
Add the chopped courgette, asparagus, and spring onion to the soup, season, and cook for 2 more minutes. Now add the wild garlic, the green leaves, the cooked chickpeas, and lentils. Cook for 2 more minutes and add the cooked peas and broad beans along with the chopped tomato.
In a separate pot of salted boiling water cook the pasta until al dente following the packet instruction.
While you wait for the pasta, remove the cheese rind from the hot stock and chop it up into small dice. Add it to the soup, you’ll be surprised by how much flavor it will add.
Don’t forget to add the cooked meatballs and when ready, add also the pasta to the soup.
I like to add a spoon of wild garlic pesto when in the season but it is optional.
Lose up the Virtù with the remaining stock and taste to check the seasoning.
Serve immediately with slices of rustic bread and a full glass of red wine. Enjoy.
Recipe by Danilo Cortellini