Loose Strife

An MP3 blog

Sunday, June 19, 2005

#9 – Thinking about soup, an excellent hangover cure

“Onion Soup” – Vic Chesnutt

It is already night, and I still cannot move out of this hotel room. I’m starved, yet the idea of eating actual food appalls me. This is highly unusual.

Being Roman, Lori’s parents threw a big Italian wedding, which means the food was actually good. They served a good traditional wedding soup, of course, which I love and which my mother sometimes makes, although it always spurs unpleasant dinner conversation about relationships I’m not in, etc. (Call it simply “meatball soup,” and you can enjoy it without baggage.) At the moment, in my current state of hangover, it’s about the only thing I think I could stomach. But not having had the forsight to take some to-go from the wedding reception last night, I'm shit out of luck.

After hyping it so much, I'll give you a basic recipe. There are millions of variations on this soup, which I think is Neapolitan: some use escarole instead of spinach, some add celery tops and carrots, some use egg (either hard boiled or whipped in a la egg drop soup) or add shredded chicken, some poach or bake the meatballs instead of frying them. You can freestyle; it’s pretty hard to screw up. Serve it with an un-oaked Italian Chardonnay or a young Chianti Riserva. Add some crusty semolina and a salad and you’ve got a perfect pre-club crawling meal---light enough so that a tab of E should kick in reasonably fast, as opposed the delay you get after a big meal. (Do people even take E anymore? So sad.)

Wedding Soup (Zuppa Maritata)

½ lb ground beef
¼ lb ground pork
¼ lb ground veal (use turkey if you’re anti-veal, or more pork)
1 egg
¼ cup breadcrumbs (plain Italian style. Japanese panko is nice too; makes a slightly fluffier meatball)
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
4 cups chicken broth (yo, Pacific brand organic broth in the box beats those musty boullion cubes, and it’s only $3 or so)
1 cup orzo
4 cups fresh spinach, washed & chopped (or 1 cup cooked)
¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano
¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Using your hands, mix ground meat, egg, bread crumbs, garlic, salt, pepper, and half the parsley in a bowl. Form into walnut-sized meatballs and saute in olive oil in a large skillet until lightly browned, turning periodically. Drain on paper towel and set aside.

Bring broth to boil, add orzo and cook according to package directions al dente, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and meatballs, return to simmer for another 2 minutes or until spinach is soft, turn off flame and stir in pecorino. Serve sprinkled with parmesan and remaining parsley. Serves 4 – 6, depending on what else you’re having.

There’s a depression-era number later popularized by Cisco Houston called “Soup Song” that goes in part:

I'm spending my nights in the flophouse/
I'm spending my days on the street/
I'm looking for work and I find none/
I wish I had something to eat/
Soo-ooup, soo-ooup, they give me a bowl of soo-oo-ooup/
Soo-ooup, soo-ooup, they give me a bowl of soup!

But my favorite soup song is “Onion Soup” by Vic Chesnutt, from his recently reissued Is The Actor Happy?---a record who the wise folks at Aquarius Records in San Francisco (one of the country’s best indie record stores, and maintainers of an annotated web catalog that’s as useful a resource for record reviews as most any “magazine”) agree is probably his best. The song, btw, shows its titular broth in a more positive light than the aforementioned ditty. Chesnutt is a talented songwriter and a brilliantly hyper-literate lyricist with an ability to make phrases like “even her freakish nipples were akimbo” sounds heartbreakingly sincere.

As a young man, Chesnutt was in a car crash that left him crippled from the waist down. I believe, if I have the story correct, that he was drunk and he plowed into a telephone pole.

Talk about learning to live with your past mistakes.

Whatever demons he is living with (we all have a motel full), he went on to become a truly great artist without succumbing to the sort of despondency you’d guess might drive him to something extreme, like, say, Kurt Cobain. There’s a lightness to even his saddest music, a rickety playfulness, a searching sort of whimsy. It’s like he finds strength in whimsy---simple verbal whimsy, the whimsy of heartbreak, the pathos of whimsy.

I love that word: “whimsy.”

Chesnutt knows about loving words. His new album, Ghetto Bells, is his best in years. I'm grateful he didn't take the easy way out.


At 12:09 PM, July 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, nice recipe! I cooked it last night for my girl, but just told her it was Italian meatball soup---didn't wanna go there, y'know? ;)...


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