With the first chill of November, heaters are turned on in Italian apratment buildings, and soups are brewed all over the boot-shaped peninsula. My favorite kind of soup is vellutata.
Vellutata is one of those perfect Italian words.
Gastronomic term – Vegetable puree combined with heavy cream, starchy legumes or egg yolks rendering a creamy, and––as the name implies––velvety consistency.
Growing up, my son––who loyal readers of this blog know as Mr E––loved vegetables. He's always been daring and tried all the food I presented him, regardless what color it was. His kindergarten, and then later grade school peers, did not eat anything green.
Then at around 6, he started pushing away the bowl of minestrone. My industrious mother, who may have pulled this trick with me too at some point in my growing up, started pureeing soups with an immersion blender and serving them to him as velouté. That silly exotic word (with an actual completely different meaning) has remained in our family lexicon. We actually normally refer to vellutata as velouté.
The most popular velouté in our household is one made with zucca (pumpkin) given the abundance of it in markets and on autumn tables. But this creamy soup can be made year round with a wide range of other seasonal crops. During summer, vellutata is a bounty of zucchini, peas, asparagus, peppers, etc. Now I'm going crazy with broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, leeks, carrots, squash, leafy greens and apples, even. It's the trickiest way of serving children a whole lot of vegetables, shielded behind a voluptuous texture and a mysterious name.
I like to mix my vellutata soups up with other kinds of vegetables and spices, topping them with croutons, toasted nuts and seeds, sautéed mushroom, fried onions or crispy pancetta.
The beauty of this dish is that it can virtually be made with what's available in the fridge that day. Take vellutata di patate e porri, for example: this creamy leek and potato soup is made soft and creamy by adding a boiled potato to gently simmering leeks. The potato gives the mixture a rich, velvety texture. More thickening helpers for your vellutata can be chickpeas, lentils, a spoonful of flour, egg yolks, aquafaba, beans, ricotta, cooked chestnuts... you name it.
If I can, I'll avoid using heavy cream as the liquid element in my vellutata. A trick is swapping it with coconut milk, bone broth, yogurt or sour cream.
The first vellutata of the season I made this year was with roasted zucca mantovana, which is a sensational candy-sweet pumpkin. I pureed it with turmeric, coconut milk and canned chickpeas for thickness. It was to die for.
After a particularly rainy rugby training last week, my son and I came home under a torriential downpour craving something warm and comforting. I blended together steamed cauliflower, a can of cannellini beans, a pinch of curry and used vegetable broth I had made in advance and froze in an ice cube tray. I topped our steaming bowls with toasted almonds and we ate on the sofa under a pile of fleece blankets while binge-watching Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix.
I recently received wonderful porcini mushrooms from my neighbor's campagna. I immediately made vellutata di porcini, or velouté rather. I made it gluten-free so my little sister could have some too in case she decided to stop in for dinner after work.
300 g wild porcini mushrooms
1 white onion, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
500 ml (17 fl oz) vegetable broth
50 g (1/4 cup) rice flour
400 ml (13 fl oz) whole milk, chilled
Clean the mushrooms by scraping the stems and leaing the caps on, then shave them using a mandoline. Save a couple for garnish.
Sauté the chopped onion with 3 Tbsp. olive oil and a clove of garlic. Add a sprig of sage and the shaved porcini.
When just lightly wilted, add all the broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste and gently simmer over moderate heat for about 6 minutes.
In the meantime, work on the thickener: in a plate and using a wire whisk, mix the rice flour with the cold milk, then pour the obtained mixture into the mushroom soup.
Cook covered for about 15 minutes, remove the sage sprig and pour in a blender to puree until creamy. Add more broth if it's too thick.
Heat the soup briefly, then serve garnished with raw porcini slices and one last turn of the peppermill.