Paparot: Spinach and Polenta Soup

Spinach and polenta soup? Yes, please. This rather hearty soup comes from the Fruili-Venezia Giulia region of northeastern Italy, you know, the region where Hemingway spent a good deal of his time. Now, it is doubtful that he spent his time concerned with spinach and polenta soup (no, he had cheese and spoiled wine to attend to*), but this soup would have been well worth it and would have provided plenty of hearty warmth on a cold winter's day.

*Seriously, my favorite part of A Farewell to Arms is when the soldiers are on the run, and they stop in a shelled-out ruin to eat cheese and drink a little spoiled wine. Never was there cheese so well-eaten in such strange circumstances as when the shells explode around them. While this book is not my favorite Hemingway (either For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Sun Also Rises takes that prize), I do love me this book. Cheese. It was good.

Paparot in the dialect of Fruili means "pulsed" and so you can see where this simple soup earns its name.You can easily pulse the spinach in a food processor but it is just as easy to chop it.But you need a lot of spinach. And when I say a lot, I mean 1.25 pounds after it has been cleaned of its stems.That's a lot of green.

Despite the short list of ingredients, it's a hearty soup, which I have needed. I am working through the Wellness Cleanse, and I have been feeling a little unsatisfied these past few days, like I needed to eat a little more. Choose the coarser cornmeal (like the kind used for polenta) rather than the finer cornmeal (although some recipes do call for the fine cornmeal) for the heartier feel and the chewier texture.

The husband, however, was less inclined to like this soup. He said that the spinach made his teeth feel funny, like they were chalky: a sentiment at which I scoffed. Bah. However, it turns out he's not just wackadoodle. According to Science World, the feeling of chalky teeth that some people get while eating cooked spinach is because of oxalic acid; Oxalic acid combines with the calcium in your saliva, and you get "Spinach teeth."This acid also prevents the absorption of and iron, unless you eat spinach with vitamin C, such as a squeeze of lemon.  And there ends your science lesson for the day.

This soup made more then plenty and the leftovers, which took me three days to eat because the husband was not interested in chalky teeth (admittedly, I was a little sick of soup), were just as tasty as the first. If it's only you and one other, perhaps half this recipe. If you're feeding an army, I say double it, and then add a glass of wine on the side. And maybe even some cheese.

One Year Ago: Chicken with Charred Cauliflower and Red Peppers
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Three Years Ago: Gajar Aur Matar Ka Pulav (Vegetable Pilaf made with Carrots and Peas)

Adapted from  Best Soups in the World

4 servings

2 1/4 pounds spinach, heavy stems removed and washed well
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 cup cornmeal
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour (again, I am on the gluten-free train, so I used brown rice flour)
5 cups vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Place the spinach with only the water adhering to it from its last rinsing in a large pot.  Cover, turn the heat to high, and steam until the leaves wilt, about 5 minutes.    Strain the spinach, pushing out the excess water with the back of a wooden spoon, and save this water.  Chop the spinach very finely, or pulse in a good processor.

2.  In a pot, heat the olive oil and garlic over low heat.  Add the spinach and cook for 4 minutes.

3.  In a bowl, combine the cornmeal and flour, then stir in a ladle or two of the vegetable broth to form a smooth batter with no lumps.  Pour the remaining broth into the spinach, bring to a near boil over high heat, then return to low and stir in the cornmeal batter slowly, stirring continuously.  Add 1/2 cup of the reserved spinach liquid and cook, partially covered and stirring frequently, until is is thickened and gooey, and the cornmeal is tender, about 20-25 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and serve.


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