Growing up, I was used to my mother’s soup made from chunky vegetables in clear broth. I can’t say I loved it – certainly not as much as I enjoy it now – but I clearly remember liking its strained variant: the “passato” (passed through, strained), the first time I tasted it.
This memory goes back to when I was a kid, during a summer vacation. My family and I were staying at our usual “pensione” on the Adriatic coast of Emilia Romagna, in the days before bed and breakfasts. The most common vacation accommodations were “full pensions”, with three meals a day included, and “half-pensions”, which only served breakfast and dinner, and so allowing time for day trips.
The Romagna region is famous for its delectable cuisine, and the pensione was no exception. Each day was special, but the Sunday menu was even fancier than usual, often featuring baked pastas, stews, roasts, a variety of sides, and dessert (which was only fruit on weekdays). Things however were less fancy on the chef’s weekly day off! On that day, reduced kitchen staff used to serve a simple dried pasta for lunch and a soup for dinner, both of which were followed by cold cuts and cheeses. One of those soups was my first passato, and it made a strong impression! Not only do I remember its complex flavor, its dark green color, and its velvety texture, I even remember the corner of the restaurant in which we were seated!
Over the years I learned to appreciate all kinds of soups, but passato still holds a special place in my memory. Like most Italian soups, passato di verdure is made by first roasting the aromatic vegetables (celery, carrot, onion) in olive oil, then adding water and the rest of the vegetables, then cooking everything for a long time to allow for the flavor to develop. To make a passato, however, the cooked vegetables are finally strained in a food mill (or by hand in a kitchen strainer), then allowed to cook some more. The straining process retains the fibrous content, and finely mashes the vegetables releasing all of their flavor into the broth. Mashing also emulsifies the olive oil used for roasting, bringing out even more flavor.
Passato di Verdure (Strained Vegetables Soup)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 onion, minced
- 1 big carrot, minced
- 2 celery sticks, minced
- 1 medium leek, sliced
- 2 yellow potatoes, diced
- 1/2 lb squash, diced
- 1/4 of a cabbage, coarsely cut
- 5-8 leaves black kale, coarsely cut
- 2 Roma tomatoes, halved
- 2 oz Parmigiano, grated
- salt and black pepper
- Roast onion, carrot, celery in olive oil at high heat until soft.
- Add the leek, potato, squash and continue roasting for a few minutes.
- Add enough water to fully cover the vegetables.
- Add cabbage, kale and tomatoes (which don't need to be peeled, since the skin will remain in the strainer).
- Simmer for 2 hours, covered with a lid, or pressure cook for 1/2 hour (using the vegetable setting if available), which is what I did.
- Strain the cooked vegetables in a food mill or by hand.
- Put the vegetables back in the same pot, add most of the grated Parmigiano.
- Adjust with salt and simmer for 15 more minutes. If necessary, use an immersion blender to make the soup even smoother.
- Serve sprinkled with the rest of the Parmigiano and freshly ground pepper.
Like for any other vegetable soup, for a more filling dish you can add pasta/rice to the finished product, and continue boiling until cooked. Because of its density, however, the passato will require pasta or rice to cook for longer, since it will take longer to absorb water (up to 50% more in my experience).
© Paolo Rigiroli