Saturday, May 12, 2007
Baby Onion Soup with Serrano Ham & Mint
I had a soup similar to this on a research trip in the Alpujarras mountains of Andalusía. Our innkeeper had a stunning kitchen garden on a small terraced field in the side of the mountain. It was early autumn, and we watched him bring a basket of leeks back to the kitchen to make this soup for a chilly evening's dinner.
We were in Trevélez, one of the highest villages in Spain, where Serrano ham is air-cured in vast quantities, and where acorn-fed pork is a part of the daily diet - though the pork is often used as a seasoning rather than as a main ingredient.
Yesterday at the market, Yuno’s Farm had magnificent stacks of purple and white “baby onions.” I recognized the white and green pinstriped bulbs as the spring onions of my youth, though I really don’t seem to cook with them stateside. Perhaps it’s because they remind me of the abysmal green-and-white-striped jabot that was the crowning shame of my school uniform in Scotland. But, of course, these onions were beautiful. They smelled fresh and crisp, and I thought they’d make a wonderful springtime version of our innkeeper’s soup.
If you want to be more authentically Andalusían than I’ve been, you should substitute Serrano ham for the Italian pancetta. I just happen to prefer the way the pancetta's flavor melds into the dish.
If you can’t find Serrano ham near you, you can try ordering from La Tienda. I’ve never bought ham from the company, but they have a good reputation. You should also feel free to use Prosciutto instead.
8 baby or spring onions, rinsed, roots and leaf tips trimmed
extra virgin olive oil
3 oz. pancetta, sliced thin
5 cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled
1 15 oz. can of cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup dry white wine
3 bay leaves
4 thin slices Serrano ham or Prosciutto
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
3 tbsp minced fresh mint
Separate the dark green leaves from the white and pale green sections of the baby onions. Slice this lighter section into thin disks. Slice the green leaves into half-inch wide pieces and reserve separately.
Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add a little olive oil and then lay in some of the pancetta slices. Sauté flat until all the fat is rendered and the pancetta is very crisp. Remove to a paper towel to drain and continue with the rest of the slices. You can eat the pancetta then and there or save it to sprinkle over salads and into omelettes.
Add the sliced disks of onion to the pot and sprinkle with kosher salt. Sauté, stirring often, until the onion is slightly translucent. Add the crushed garlic cloves and sauté for a few more minutes.
Add the beans and season generously with black pepper. Stir well and add the broth, wine, and bay leaves. Raise the heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, heat a saucepan over medium high heat and add a little olive oil. Gently tear the Serrano ham into strips or pieces, trying not to eat it all while you wait for the pan to heat (this has been known to happen at our house). Working in batches to keep the ham as flat as possible, sauté the torn strips until crisp and remove to paper towels to drain.
Add the sliced onion greens to the soup and simmer for 3 or 4 more minutes until they're tender but still bright green.
Remove the bay leaves from the soup and pour the contents of the pot through a sieve into a large bowl. Purée the solids in a food processor and return to the pot. Slowly add in the liquids until the desired texture is reached. Reheat the soup and season with the sherry vinegar and 2 tbsp of fresh mint. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Serve hot drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil and garnished with the crisp Serrano ham and the remaining mint leaves