Today, February 24th …
The traditional Italian soup ‘Zuppa alla Pavese’ was supposedly invented on this day in 1525 in Lombardy, during the battle of Pavia. The battle was a defining point in the conflict over ownership of Italy which had begun some thirty years before, with the major protaganists being France, Spain, and Switzerland. François I’s army was virtually annihilated by the superior firepower of the army of The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V of Spain, and François himself – after having distinguished himself in combat – was taken prisoner. It must have been a great present for the Emperor, whose birthday was also this day.
The story is that during a brief respite from the battle, with the Spaniards at his heels and defeat in view, Francis stopped at a cottage and asked for a meal. The good housewife, faced with a king for a dinner guest, improved on the simple broth heating on her stove by pouring it over buttered fried bread onto which she had carefully broken an egg and sprinkled some cheese.
In the corporate battlefield of today you may not have your horse shot out from under you by an enemy with an arquebus, leaving you to fight hand to hand, as did François, but head to head combat can still be pretty gruelling. Restoration by soup is still often required, and the quickly prepared Zuppa alla Pavese is just the job. I give you an adaptation of the recipe from Ada Boni’s classic book “Italian Regional Cuisine”.
Zuppa alla Pavese.
12 thick slices of bread
150 gm butter
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan
8-9 cups clear stock
Fry the bread quickly in butter until golden brown on both sides but still soft inside. Put 2 slices of bread into each soup bowl or cup.
Break 2 eggs very carefully into each bowl; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and a very little salt. Bring the stock to a bubbling boil and swiftly but as carefully as possible pour a cup of this into each bowl. Le the stock continue boiling as you work. This is important for the stock must be so hot that it cooks the eggs in the bowls. If added carelessly, the eggs will break and spoil the appearance of the soup. Serve immediately.
Corporate soup might be best with dry toast - head to head tussles are not as calorie-demanding as sixteenth century combat !
On Monday: Tuppence for mutton.