I·ATE Food Term of the Week: Acquacotta – An Autumn Soup

October 26, 2019 9:30 am

Sometimes it can be very cold in Maremma, the name given to the Italian area between southern Tuscany and northern Lazio. Fierce winds frequently blow in this part of Italy at the end of November, and when this happens some reticent grandmothers, remembering the cold winters of their childhood (when huge fireplaces had to keep warm the whole room and stoves were essential), know that it is time to greet the season with a hot soup, which is called acquacotta.

Being a “poor” dish, literally meaning “cooked water”, it is no wonder that its ingredients are easy to find. This recipe was handed down by peasants and probably derives from the habit of the Italian cowboys, the butteri, of boiling the vegetables they found while driving their cattle. For this reason, the main ingredients are: potatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, chicory and tomatoes. Variants can include carrots, beans and celery, as well as eggs, which add to the dish an elusive thickness in texture, and bacon, if one wants to give to the soup a strong robust flavour.  

Bread, moreover, is a key feature. Since the summer brightness is over, the slightly failing light that is typical of the new season, makes the loaves acquire again their bulky shape, rich in crumbs. Cut in slices, the bread is laid carefully on the plate before the soup is poured, vanishing under a surface that is littered with gold and with the dark shapes of the cooked vegetables. It is a real pleasure, at the end of the meal, to taste the bread once it has been soaked into the soup; the wet slices have indeed absorbed all the different flavours of this dish, ranging from the slightly bitter chicory to the tasty potatoes, from the pungent onion to the sweet beans.

Even from an aesthetic point of view, the dish is rich in colours. Carrots break the monotony imposed by the green hues of the vegetables, as orange pebbles lost in this warm sea of jade. While the boiled potatoes, cut in pieces that have been caught in the spires of the chicory, look a little bit like rocks interspersed with seaweed, the tiny tomatoes seem reed crescents that have been laid on the bread. It is natural, then, to think of the cold starry nights that will be in store in the coming weeks, featuring a moon that can be often found casting a bright light above Maremma’s landscape, whose flat shape reminds us of how in the past this part of Italy was known as a malevolent, dangerous marsh.

Given the cold autumnal weather, acquacotta pairs splendidly with a glass of red wine. After all, the fire-red shades of a Sangiovese, and the dark hues of a Montepulciano, seem naturally to match the colours of the season, whose orange and reddish tints can still be found flourishing in green areas and in the countryside. Since the world has not yet been plunged into winter’s grey palette, let us enjoy the last golden and bright evenings of the season: a steaming dish of acquacotta seems perfect, then, to warm us up before the long nights that lead to Christmas. 

Written by Angelo Riccioni

Angelo is a PhD student in “European Languages and Specialized Terminologies” at “Parthenope” University of Naples (Italy).

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