Serious soup

Last year I went with Heather Jarman of Sapori-e-Saperi to the finals of the Disfida della Zuppa…the local Slow Food soup competition. The soup is a speciality of the area, zuppa all frantoiana, a type of minestrone, based on 4 ingredients…beans, cavolo nero, olive oil and toasted bread.

Each family would have their own recipe handed down through generations, each with its own extras, which should be of the season. Last year there was much discussion about the addition of zucchini, which doesn’t grow in winter. A couple of soups were criticised for adding zucchini…I told you this was serious.

This year I attended the first heat of the competition in Pieve di Compito, close to Lucca. There were 6 soups vying to go forward to the next stage.

The room was still being prepared when we arrived.


The numbered bowls were stacked and ready.


People began to gather.


Tasting and voting instructions were given.


…and the first soup arrived. Heather and I really liked this one, even though is was a little salty. The aroma was excellent, the texture good and it had a good balance of beans, vegetables and bread.


The next one was also good, with quite a different taste. It is amazing how different the soups can be using similar ingredients.


The third one tasted very good, but there was a little too much bread.


The bowls began to stack up.


Number 4 was good, we liked the whole beans.


The fifth one looked quite different, but the taste was good.


The final soup arrived and we had to make some serious decisions.


The first soup was my favourite.

Last year the discussion became heated about zucchini. This year it was tomatoes. It was agreed that tomatoes are not in season in winter, so perhaps should not be in the soup, but finally most people agreed that they could be there because it would be usual to bottle tomatoes in the summer and most households would have a good supply of passata to be used over the winter months.

People often ask me why the food is so good in Italy. I think the story above goes a long way to explaining why. Food is a serious business here. Everybody has a strong opinion, tradition is respected and people demand good food. They expect to eat well at home and in restaurants and will have their say if what they are served doesn’t come up to expectations…and rightly so.

Heather and I left before the judging was completed, so I don’t know which soup was chosen as the winner. I will let you know if I find out.

Click here to see the exciting finals from last year.