Acqua cotta means “cooked water,” a name that undersells a delicious and nurturing bread soup prepared in less than an hour.
Travelling in the Maremma, on the Tuscan coast, I started seeing this soup on menus. It didn’t sound promising. But the soup itself was a delight.
No need for brodo! Vegetables, including onion and some kind of greens, create their own broth. Each serving, as it’s dished up, is enriched by adding bread, grated hard cheese and, most important, an egg poached in the soup itself.
Acqua cotta belongs to the same tradition as ribollita, making thrifty use of stale Tuscan bread, but it’s a far less time-consuming soup to make. Of course, authentic Tuscan bread is hard to come by in the States, but I’ve found that croutons made from any bread with a dense texture–including rye and other whole grain breads–work reasonably well.
As I gathered recipes for Piatto Unico, my cookbook on one-course Italian meals, this soup came to mind. Later on, Tina Rupp’s photo of acqua cotta, its elements suspended in a light but nourishing broth, looked so appetizing we chose it for the book cover.
A simple soup like this is easy to forget until the larder is almost empty. The last carrot, some greens, a few crusts of bread–aaahh! The makings of acqua cotta.
This recipe for this soup, typical of coastal Tuscany and Lazio, is eaten along the coasts of Tuscany and Lazio.
- 1 cup medium bread cubes cut from a country-style white or whole-wheat loaf about 2 slices
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion chopped
- 1 small carrot thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced celery 1 small stalk
- 1 large garlic clove finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- 1 cup chopped or shredded chard, spinach or kale
- 1 cup chopped canned plum tomatoes with some of the puree
- 4 eggs
- Grated Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino cheese
Preheat an oven or toaster oven to 400°F. Toss the bread cubes on a baking sheet with a little olive oil. Cook until dry to the touch and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, leaving the cubes in the oven.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onion until soft but not colored, stirring often. Reduce the heat and add the carrot and celery, sauteing for a couple of minutes longer. Add the garlic, rosemary and red pepper flakes, cooking just until the garlic is fragrant.
Add 2 quarts cold water and 2 teaspoons salt; bring to a boil. Stir in the chard and tomatoes; reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, to blend the flavors. Taste the broth, and season as needed with more salt and hot red pepper.
Break the eggs one by one into a small dish and, holding it close to the surface, slide into the soup. Poach for about 3 minutes. The eggs will sink from sight but rise to the surface when almost fully cooked. The whites should be opaque and the yolks slightly firm but still soft.
Using a skimmer or slotted spatula, lift each egg and slide into a soup bowl. • Top each with a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano and some warm croutons.
Note: In addition to the other garnishes, add small torn strips of prosciutto di Parma to the soup bowls just before serving.