Some soups are delicate, light and refreshing, served as the prelude to a meal. Others, like this one, are hearty and nourishing meals in themselves. It is not precisely a soup, but a soupy concoction of potatoes and pasta, known throughout Italy as pasta e patate.
This is an example of the country’s bare-cupboard cuisine, la cucina povera, in which inexpensive basics are transformed with small jolts of flavor from aged cheese, dried chiles, herb pastes and the like. Thrifty but flavorful, its principal aim is to feed a family during times when funds are tight. (If no potatoes were in the pantry, you could make a similar soup with beans or lentils.)
Humble, but not spartan, many dishes from this tradition are also exceedingly delicious.
Here, you soften an onion in a hot pan with a generous glug of olive oil, then add chopped potatoes, salt, a garlic clove, a rosemary sprig and water. When the potatoes are done, a handful of pasta goes in, and when the pasta is al dente, you ladle this steaming, chunky marvel of a soup into bowls. Pass the grated pecorino and Parmigiano, a cruet of oil, the pepper mill and crushed red pepper.
That’s the bare-bones version. There are any number of regional variations, of course, and every cook is at liberty to customize according to whim. Some might add, for example, more vegetables, like celery and carrot; some tomato, a little or a lot; bacon or pancetta or ham; beef or chicken broth; or, as in my recipe, a large quantity of chopped kale.
Though the soup could be made from start to finish and served right away, you can make it several hours, or even a day, in advance. This allows for the flavors to meld and for the potatoes to break down a bit. But since you don’t want the pasta to be overcooked, cook it separately, and stir it in as a final step. Small, textured pasta shapes, like pennette, orecchiette or rigatoncini are the best choice. For potatoes, I like yellow-fleshed ones like Yukon or German Butterball, but russets will suffice.
As for the double-carbohydrate, starch-on-starch nature of this soup, I regard it as a satisfying win-win.
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