After a month and a half of unbridled hedonism —and absolutely no blog posts—we have slipped back into the now familiar cadence of our lives in Martina Franca. We went back to the U.S. to see our children, parents and friends these past few months, experiencing a pausa from Italian life while escaping the tail end of winter. We also peddled our extra virgin olive oil up and down the west coast, reconnecting with olive oil aficionados and meeting some truly lovely new friends, too. It was a rollicking good time between the world class I.P.A. craft beers in Portland, John Locke’s bewitching Birichino Malvasia and my father-in-law’s deadly margaritas, which ought to be illegal. We need a vacation from the vacation.
A vacation, alas, is not in the offing. After touching base in Martina, we leave again to spend a moment in France and experience about 495 miles worth of Spain. On foot. On May 3rd, we begin the Camino Francés, the most traveled of the pilgrimage routes in Europe that terminate in Santiago de Compostela in the extreme western corner of Spain. We’ll join thousands of pilgrims from all over the world in St. Jean Pied de Port at the base of the Pyrenees to complete this trek, united by a common desire to embrace something ancient and profound while commiserating about blisters, weak knees and exuberant snoring in the pilgrim hostels.
After watching a new documentary about the Camino experience, we decided we should get a little more
serious about our training regimen. Before leaving Italy for California, we had developed a satisfying series of ever more challenging walks in the Valle d’Itria and felt unreasonably confident about our ability to hold our own in May. Yet the endless series of dinners with family and friends in Portland and Santa Cruz during our hiatus put an end to all of that hubris. Now we’re frantically trying to recover lost ground, counting off the days until we’re no longer training but actually in the thick of it all alongside far more prepared fellow pilgrims.
Pilgrim prep requires pilgrim rations, so we’re prolonging proper Lenten behavior beyond Easter in a grim effort to shave off all that vacation excess. Why carry it all with us to Santiago? Happily, it’s spring in Puglia, with all of its accompanying bounty in the form of lovely, tender English peas, fava beans, spring onions, long, flat Roman beans, delicate saltwort (also known as agretti or barba di frate), and oh, the artichokes. We steam them and drizzle fragrant extra virgin olive oil everywhere, finishing with sea salt from northern Puglia. We’ve also expanded our soup repertoire to showcase the explosion of greens we see everywhere.
These last few weeks before we leave for the Camino are developing a rhythm all their own. Since we’re walking just about everywhere, we’re seeing our town and its countryside in a brand new way. Something about the pace of walking makes observation all the more acute. The paths we take change in ways that are both subtle and arresting every single day. If all of this is prologue to the walk of walks in Spain, we’re well on our way.
Here is a soup we’ve been relying upon lately because it’s simple to make, especially versatile and deeply satisfying. It is also vegan and gluten free, which makes it easily tolerated by tired trekkers. Roasting the vegetables provides a caramelized depth of flavor; the wine retains acidity to balance the potatoes. Feel free to substitute liberally based on what you find in your own market.
Zuppa Primaverile – Spring Soup
2 pounds new crop potatoes (about 5 cups), chopped into rough ¾-inch cubes
1 pound chopped spring onions or young leeks, white part only (about 5 cups)
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/3 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher or sea salt to taste
Several grinds of fresh black pepper
4 cups spinach, arugula or tender Swiss chard, roughly chopped and lightly packed to measure
1/2 cup white wine
5 cups vegetable stock (approx.)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano (for non-vegans)
Heat the oven to 425°.
Combine the potatoes and onions or leeks in a large roasting pan. Add the olive oil, chopped thyme, salt and pepper and toss to coat the vegetables evenly. Roast, stirring occasionally, until they’re very tender, about 40 to 50 minutes.
Add the arugula (or other greens and toss to combine, then roast for about 5 more minutes, until the arugula is wilted.
Remove the roasting pan from the oven and place it over two burners on the stove. Stir in the white wine and 2 cups of the vegetable stock and cook over low heat for a few minutes, scraping up any dark and crispy roasted bits that are stuck to the pan.
Transfer the contents of the roasting pan to a large soup pot.Stir in 2½-3 more cups more vegetable stock and stir to incorporate. Let the soup simmer for about ten minutes. Turn off the heat, add the parmigiano (if using) along with salt and pepper to taste.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup, adding more vegetable stock if it’s too thick. Cook over low heat until hot, check the seasonings, and serve, garnished as desired.
If you don’t have an immersion blender, carefully purée the contents of the roasting pan in a food processor or countertop blender, then transfer it to a large pot and stir in the 2½ cups chicken stock, parmigiano and salt and pepper to taste. Swirl a little extra virgin olive oil just before serving the soup.
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a first course.