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Legume Soups and Stirato

May 14, 2011

It’s cold and rainy again (or should I say still?) here in Vancouver.  There have been a few genuinely springy days peppered …no, not peppered…sneakily hidden…amongst the otherwise rain and hail beaten tulips, and so I’ve been making soup to soothe my winter-wearied soul.  Again.  Still?

Not that I mind soup itself.  On the contrary!  Regardless of the season or the occasion, there is an appropriate soup for the table.  These soups were inspired by two things (three if you count the unseasonable weather).  First, my friend Emily who recently shared her own delightful Tomato-Chickpea soup with me–a smooth tomato puree with happy little chickpeas imbibing the rosemary undertones.  A very nice soup indeed and a perfect “go-to” soup as Emily called it.  Second, the fact that I had bread on the rise.  Stirato, an Italian baguette, is made with a biga rather than a sourdough starter or levain.  My sister-in-law recently shared the good news of her own adventures in bread-baking with me, and she asked about other breads I’ve enjoyed making that didn’t require a sourdough starter (though I have every confidence you will soon thrive in the land of sourdough, Audrey!).  So I decided to try another biga-based bread.  I guess that makes four points of inspiration for these recipes.


I’ve been baking from Daniel Leader’s book, Local Breads, and loving it.  His picturesque narratives of his experiences learning from French, Italian, German, Czech and Polish bakers are a delightful read in themselves, and so far I’ve had very good results with the recipes.  Stirato means “stretched,” and the rustic Italian approach to making a baguette is quite different than the French approach–and the results are quite different, too.  The stirato is knobby on the ends rather than tapered, and unscored (admittedly, this is the aspect I like the least–I simply LOVE scoring loaves and seeing how they bloom in the oven).  This recipe makes two stirato; the first we enjoyed with my own variation on Marcella Hazan’s Chickpea Soup; the second I put in the freezer to be enjoyed a little less than a week later with, as it turns out, another riff on one of Hazan’s soups: Lentil.  In both cases, a little dish of dipping oil and balsamic vinegar were the perfect accompaniment to this mild, soft bread–which, in turn, was the perfect accompaniment to these soul-warming soups.

The Recipes:

Tomato-Chickpea Soup (adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)

4 garlic cloves, minced

Olive oil to generously coat the bottom of your soup pot

1 1/2 tsp dried, crushed, rosemary

28 oz/796 ml canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped in the can with their juice

2 cups cooked (if you work from dry) or canned chickpeas

4-6 cups water or broth (meat or vegetable), depending on how thick you like your soup

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Saute the garlic and rosemary in the oil at a medium heat.  Add the tomatoes and all of their juice and cook for about 20 minutes.  Add the chickpeas and cook for 5 minutes, stirring thoroughly.  Add the water/broth and adjust the heat so that it bubbles and a steady, moderate heat for 15 minutes.  Taste for salt and pepper, adding to your taste.  Serve with shavings or grated Parmesan.

Panchetta-Lentil Soup (adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)

3 TBL butter plus enough olive or vegetable oil to coat the bottom of your soup pot.

1/2 large onion or 1 medium onion, minced

1/3-1/2 cup chopped pancetta (or bacon)

1 large carrot (or parsnip–which is what I used because it was what I had on hand), diced

1 stalk of celery or the heart of the celery, diced including the leaf

28 oz/796 ml canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped in the can with their juice

3 cups dried brown lentils

6-8 cups water or broth (meat or vegetable), depending on how thick you like your soup

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Saute the onion and panchetta in the butter and oil at a medium-high heat until the onion is golden.  Do not cover the pot.  Add the carrot (or parsnip) and celery.  Cook at “a lively heat” (this is Hazan’s phrase, and I love it) for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the tomatoes and their juice and adjust the heat so they bubble gentle, but steadily.  Cook for about 25 minutes, stirring now and then.  Wash the lentils in cold water and drain them.  Add them to the pot and stir thoroughly.  Add a pinch of salt, some pepper and the water/broth.  Cover the pot and adjust the heat to a steady, gently simmer, and stir now and then.  Cook till the lentils are soft–about 30-45 minutes.  Add water/broth if necessary to accommodate the expanding lentils.  When the lentils are cooked, taste for salt, make any adjustments, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan.

Stirato, (reheated and even better than when first baked…read: crustier)

(from Daniel Leader’s Local Breads)

Time committment:

9-17 hours to ferment the biga

10-20 minutes to knead the final dough

1 1/2 – 2 hours to ferment (rise)

45 minutes- 1 hour to proof (the shaped loaves rising)

20-30 minutes to bake


1/3 cup / 90 grams tepid water

3/4 tsp / 3 grams instant yeast

1 cup / 150 grams unbleached, all-purpose flour

Combine water, yeast and flour in a small bowl and stir until a dough forms.  It will be stiff.  Dust the counter with flour and scrape the dough out; knead it for 1 – 2 minutes.  Your biga will be about the size of an apple.  Lightly oil the bowl, round the biga and place it in the bowl.  Cover with plastic and let ferment at room temperature for about an hour.  Then put it in the fridge for 8 – 16 hours (I leave it overnight).  It will double in size.

Final dough:

Biga (all of it)

1 1/4 cups / 280 grams lukewarm water

1 tsp / 5 grams instant yeast

2 1/2 cups / 400 grams unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp / 10 grams sea salt

Scrape the biga into a large bowl.  Add the water, and stir to break up the biga.  Add the yeast, flour and salt, stirring to form a dough.  Turn out on a floured counter and knead.  It will be sticky, but resist adding flour (flour your hands if you need to, but go easy on the flour).  Use a scraper of some sort (I use a metal spatula) to collect dough from the counter.  Knead until the dough is very smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.  Check the gluten development by pulling off a golf-ball sized piece of dough and stretching it into an opaque windowpane–if it tears, knead longer.

Put the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume (about 1 1/2 – 2 hours).  Cover a peel or rimless baking sheet with parchment paper and dust it with flour.  Uncover the dough and turn it out onto an unfloured counter.  Cut the dough into two equal pieces.  Drape them with plastic and let rest for 10 minutes.  Shape each into a fat baguette, about 12 inches long and 3 inches wide.  (To shape: Flatten each piece of dough into a rectangle about 12 inches long and fold in thirds length wise, then roll the baguette).  Leave the ends rounded.  Place on the parchment, seam side down, and dust with flour.  Cover with plastic and let rise 45 minutes to an hour, until they inflate and spread out.

About an hour before baking (after you’ve shaped your stirato), place a baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and heat to 450F.  Prepare a steam tray (I put a cup of water into an old cookie sheet).  Slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto the hot stone.  Put the steam tray on the bottom rack, and the stone with the loaves back in on the middle rack, and bake 20-30 minutes until the baguettes are honey gold.  I think I underbaked them a bit–the crumb with finished but the crust hadn’t fully developed.  Cool on a wire rack for about an hour before serving.  If you can wait.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Widdifield permalink
    May 24, 2011 2:15 pm

    This seems a bit like being a stalker, but I had the urge today to check out google maps for oxford, which then reminded me of you and Ghahre, which then led me to see what you had been up to, which led me to search google for you. Pretty hard to track someone down with a new last name and who has moved to Vancouver. Drop Janna and I an email sometime to give us the details on life.

    • May 24, 2011 2:26 pm

      No way! So very glad you tracked me down. Sending an email soon…hoping you and Janna are well. Looking forward to hearing the details on life from you guys, too…

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