This week, the Patriots cede the Sunday Night spotlight to the 4-7 Bengals, who visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in a renewal of a hallowed Rust Belt rivaly. The AFC North is known for hard-nosed football, but Cincy and Pittsburgh have culinary traditions that do not translate easily into soups.
Under the circumstances, the best approach is to make a soup that keys on a single player, as with the pho bo for CowboysBears back in September. A flamboyant Mexican soup honoring Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson would be one option, but we've done a posole recently, which unfortunately is where my even vaguely Mexican soup repertoire begins and ends.
With the departure of Joey Porter, the most prominent Steeler is Ben Roethlisberger, who nearly ended his career in a summer 2006 motorcycle crash. While the affair did furnish Steeler fans with a rare offseason tailgating opportunity, a soup that would remind Big Ben to wear a helmet seems like a good idea, but helmet-shaped foods are rare.
Granted, orecchiete are shaped more like WWI doughboy helmets than like DOT-approved motorcycle helmets, but we're about raising awareness by any means necessary here at Serious Eats. Thus, a soup with pasta, and continuing last week's theme, no stock. This is adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe that appears in The Minimalist Cooks at Home and is also available here. The biggest changes that I are to sub country ham in for its opera-loving cousin, and to insist on the parmesan rind. You can stick with the prosciuitto, but country ham is easier to find in a chunk, (you could, for instance, take a slab off of the country ham you keep in its own suitcase, and the intense flavor and salinity of the ham is tempered by the water. This soup is austere, yet fulfilling, like a Bergman film, or night football in Pittsburgh in December for that matter.
- Yield:4 servings
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (It is really worth it to use a good fruity one here—I prefer Frantoia)
- 1/4 pound country ham, in one chunk or slice
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 pound greens, preferably kale (You could use mustard or turnip greens if you wanted to chase a cold, or even collards, if you wanted to make it even countrier)
- Parmesan rind, diced (optional)
- Chives (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Set 6 cups of water to boil. Put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in the bottom of a medium soup pot, and turn the heat to medium. Finely dice the ham, and add to the oil . Brown, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, while you prepare the garlic, onion and greens.
Peel the garlic, and chop it roughly or leave it whole. Peel and chop onion. Wash and chop greens into bite-size pieces. Rinse once more than you think you need to.
When the ham is browned, add the garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to color, about 2 minutes. Add the onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they become translucent, 2 or 3 minutes. Add the greens, and stir; then, add the 6 cups of boiling water. Stir in the pasta and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper; adjust heat so the mixture simmers.
When the pasta has been going for about 5 minutes, add the diced parmesan rind. It will soften as the pasta cooks -- ideally, the pasta will be done just as the parmesan softens and surrenders its flavor, but before it disintegrates.
(Optional) If you are actually serving this soup to Ben Roethlisberger, remove pasta from broth and thread a piece of chive through each piece of pasta, to create a suggestion of a chinstrap. If your guests are smart enough to wear helmets when they operate two wheeled vehicles, you may omit this tedious refinement.