By Carmen Autuori
It is a common custom to consume this soup in the days after the grand dinners of celebrations and also during the winter season. On the other hand, in our culture, the word soup does not denote a common first course, but rather the perfect first course: a dish that warms and satisfies the atavistic hunger that always worries the humbler classes. This was especially intensified during the winter season when, apart from pigs for those lucky enough to own pigs, nature once again showed itself as an ungenerous stepmother to fruits, which were the main source of sustenance for the majority of the rural population. However, it was never lacking ingenuity to overcome the obstacle, and therefore it was customary to collect seasonal herbs, mostly wild, with a few potatoes, a handful of beans or a piece of plants added to the so-called “Sperta soup”. To make the bread richer and here is a refreshing dish that is delicious and rich from a nutritional point of view.
However, the Santè soup is a soup of its own because it includes both chicken and beef among the ingredients, and thus differs from the popular homemade soup, which contains pork and is therefore necessarily fattier.
Famous, on the occasion of the visit of Queen Giovanna II of Naples, which is still inevitable on the table on Christmas Day, it is Agnone in Molise, apparently invented by a chef with a few available ingredients. The ingredients are different from those used in Campania, as Molise is an idea of slices of bread dipped in egg, lean meatballs (mainly egg and cheese), aged cheese and pieces of podolico caciocacavallo and vegetables. The only thing in common is the refreshing chicken broth.
Locally, it is very common in Piana del Sele, where ancient recipes from its history are located. It is always not only a passage (let’s not forget that Paestum was one of the destinations of the Grand Tour), but also a place of welcome. Many noble and non-noble families who settled in these lands became particularly productive after the various reclamations that had already begun during the Bourbon period. Morese and Moscato in Pontecanano, Baratta, Gemma and Rago in Battipaglia, Alfani and Farina in the countryside of Eboli, Leone and Salati in the plains of Paestum, just to name a few. Although the rural aristocracy maintained its privileged position, it never rejected the confrontation with the humble classes, especially the peasants. From this exchange we have obtained rich recipes that are a synthesis of peasant and aristocratic gastronomic culture; on the other hand, most of these families stayed for a long time in the capital, where the influence of French cuisine radically changed Neapolitan cuisine. And so it probably happened with Zuppa alla Sante, or health soup (santè in French).
So the family cooks thought of enriching the humble soup with “sperta” (wild) soup, adding pieces of aged chicken (often chicken) and veal meatballs. According to the laws of the time, it was a light and healthy soup. In fact, the contamination is very reminiscent of a consommé, reminiscent of the opulent weeds that grow luxuriantly in the fertile Piana del Sele in a rich chicken and beef broth.
The recipe below has the signature of Teresa De Crescenzo Caprino, a lady from Battipagliese, a true master of this dish. One of his secrets was to grind the previously boiled vegetables into small, almost confetti, to obtain a perfect result, and the second was his habit of cooking the soup in a small pan, a narrow and tall vessel, because only in this way, according to him, all the smells and flavors remained intact.
Despite its name, it may not be a detox meal, but it is nutritionally balanced. And then it is so good that it is worth arming yourself with a lot of patience and continuing to prepare.
Ingredients for 6 people
1/2 chicken (or chicken)
400 g of minced beef
100 g of bread crumbs
2 tablespoons of grated cheese
400 g of wild chicory
200 g of borage
200 g thistle (optional)
2 tender endives
1 stick of celery
1 peeled tomato
1 parmesan rind
Extra virgin olive oil
Boil water, carrots, onions, celery, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, chicken cut into large pieces without the skin, add salt and boil for at least 1 hour. Meanwhile, boil all the vegetables separately in boiling salted water. Drain them, squeeze them and cut them into very small pieces with scissors. Remove the chicken pieces from the broth, cool and chop. Mix the meat with pre-soaked and pressed breadcrumbs, egg, cheese, salt and pepper in a bowl. Make small balls the size of hazelnuts, dip them in the boiling broth. After it rises to the surface, add the chicken and previously boiled vegetables. Simmer on low flame for at least one more hour. If desired, add a drizzle of fresh oil to the soup tube.