10 Most Delicious Italian Soups
Whether a ritual, a supreme form of art and craft, or, to some, even a religion, Italian cuisine has evolved to go far beyond the human biological need to satisfy hunger while faithfully following tradition and the cultural customs that make it an exceptional historical heritage.
Indeed, soups represent one of the oldest and most ancestral cooking techniques to incorporate unused or leftover food from a time when the largely peasant population could not afford wastage.
Just think of the famous painting Il mangiafagioli (The Bean Eater) by the celebrated Renaissance painter Annibale Carracci, depicting a typical 16th century setting with a humble peasant wearing a straw hat enjoying his bowl of pasta e fagioli.
But the technique of boiling stock dates way back to when pottery was first invented, around 5000 BCE in the Mediterranean countries, as a more sophisticated and resistant means of cooking liquids over fire.
This was a true revolution in the history of cooking, as it not only allowed for the consumption of various types of hard vegetables and root vegetables that could not be eaten raw, but it introduced entirely new nuances of flavors and aftertastes that had been undiscovered until then, as well as a whole new array of possibilities.
In fact, grains and cereals could be added to increase substance, flour to give more thickness, while adding vegetables that had been sautéed in garlic and oil enhanced the flavors incredibly!
The term “zuppa,” as well as all the other Latin equivalents like “soup,” “sopa,” and “soupe,” derives from the Frankish word “suppa,” which in the Italian language came to designate a bowl of vegetable or meat stock with chunks of bread. Hence the verb “inzuppare,” which refers to the act of dunking bread in your soup.
Interestingly enough, Italians refer to the concept of “soups” with a great variety of terms: Minestra, vellutata, they even confusingly call it pasta at times (pasta e fagioli, pasta e ceci, etc.), but they are still considered to be soups!
But without further ado, let’s immediately delve into them and discover Italy’s best soups.
Minestrone is the Italian soup per eccellenza. Every child growing up in Italy will habitually experience their grandfather or grandmother making minestrone in the early hours of the morning, or even the night before, as it’s a well-known fact that warming up a soup the next day will just make it better.
Minestrone is a delicious concoction of a great quantity of seasonal vegetables, such as black cabbage, carrots, peas, cauliflower, potatoes, and beans, which are diced into medium-sized cubes and lightly cooked in order to retain their textures.
Minestrone is typically served con un filo d’olio (with a tiny dash of olive oil), and sometimes with grated Parmigiano on top. People in the Liguria region will even go as far as adding spoonfuls of local pesto sauce to enhance the taste, and own the exclusivity of the Minestrone Ligure recipe.
All Italians know that when it comes to making soup, Tuscans are certainly hard to beat.
Indeed, this sun-blushed hilly region has been for centuries the home of the Cucina Povera culture, based on avoiding wastage and reutilizing leftovers. What best can exemplify this concept than the delicious Ribollita soup, literally meaning “reboiled,” to express the art of creating a culinary masterpiece out of humble and unused ingredients?
Other than the usual core ingredients of cannellini beans, cabbage, onions, and carrots, what makes Ribollita so unique is the addition of stale bread, which soaks into the vegetable broth, giving it a wholesome and hearty consistency.
3. Pappa al Pomodoro
Pappa al Pomodoro is another popular soup originating from the Tuscan Cucina Povera culture. The main distinctive ingredient is again stale bread, which is nicely softened by cooking it with fresh tomatoes, or alternatively with passata di pomodoro (tomato purée), garlic, and onions.
To strictly follow the original recipe, only a certain type of tomato, called Costoluto Fiorentino, should be used.
Pappa al Pomodoro is typically served with a dash of olive oil and fresh basil on top, and it is often offered as a complimentary “welcome starter” in many Italian restaurants. This simple soup encapsulates all the quintessential Italian flavors!
4. Pasta e Fagioli
Literally translated as “pasta and beans,” this humble dish in reality holds a vast richness of flavor and taste that is good for the soul.
There is no original recipe for this dish, and every region tends to make its own version according to local customs, but generally all recipes will start with an onion, celery, and carrot soffritto, to which fagioli borlotti are added, together with vegetable stock, and blended into a deliciously velvety cream.
Some recipes even use potatoes and tomato purée for added thickness and, lastly, Ditalini pasta is added in. The soup is now ready to be served with some fresh aromatic rosemary on top to enhance the flavors!
5. Zuppa Imperiale
Zuppa Imperiale is a popular soup from the town of Bologna, in Emilia-Romagna. With a highly honorable name, the recipe is actually known for its incredible simplicity and flavorsome array of tastes!
Zuppa Imperiale is nothing more than small fluffy diced semolina dough cooked in rich meat stock, which became a renowned dish thanks to Pellegrino Artusi’s famous culinary manual La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well).
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The name of the soup is thought to derive from the first wife of Emperor Napoleon I, who had invented the recipe inspired by Krinofel, a typical Austrian soup.
6. Zuppa d’Orzo
Zuppa d’Orzo (Barley soup), also known as Südtiroler Gerstensuppe, is a traditional soup from the Germanic South Tyrol area in the Trentino Alto-Adige region.
The soup is made from a combination of seasonal vegetables that have been sautéed in garlic and butter, and local speck, a typical cured meat from the region, which adds a deliciously smoky taste to it.
Barley is then added and left to simmer for about an hour until the consistency of the soup becomes creamy and velvety and is ready to eat!
7. Minestra Maritata
Literally meaning “Married Soup,” Minestra Maritata is a very old Neapolitan soup, which dates back to the times of the Romans. The name refers to the delicious marriage of meat and vegetables, resulting in a rich and chunky soup made with pork chops and leafy greens.
Minestra Maritata has long been a staple dish for old Neapolitan farmers and workers, a prime example of local Cucina Povera, which back in the day was largely frowned upon by the urban middle and upper classes, while now it is presented as a culinary jewel in many sophisticated restaurants in Italy.
8. Zuppa di Verza e Patate
Savoy cabbage is a staple winter soup across most northern Italian regions, but it is originally from Veneto. Cabbage is cooked with carrots, onions, celery, and potatoes and then partially blended to create a wonderfully creamy consistency with chunky bits of succulent vegetables.
It’s a winning recipe for vegans and will surely prove any meat lover who refuses to eat vegetables wrong!
When it comes to fish soups, Italians always make sure to clarify that the term “fish soup” is far too general and loose to describe the infinite variety of different fish-based soups all across Italy, each with its own unique name.
Buridda is a popular traditional soup from Genova made with a great variety of different leftover fish; in fact, as the Italian proverb says: “Meno pregiato è il pesce e meglio il brodo riesce,“ (the less noble the fish, the better the soup). The fish is slow-cooked with onions, olives, capers, peas, and mushrooms.
10. Boreto alla Graisana
True connoisseurs of Italian culinary delicacies will surely have come across the Boreto alla Graisana soup from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Originally from the town of Grado, this soup was made in ancient times by fishermen living in casoni, old rudimentary shacks made of bamboo and straw.
What makes this soup unique is the replacement of tomato sauce with vinegar, as well as the pairing with white polenta, which makes it the ultimate combination!
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