How could a Tuscan "re-boiled" soup have anything to do with a life I used to have making one-of-a-kind, tapestry-crocheted bags out of hand-dyed linen? Are you sitting down? This could take a while.
Way, way back in the '70s I attended the Kansas City Art Institute, majoring in Fiber. After several years of tapestry weaving I picked up a crochet hook and some Irish rug linen. I needed a bag for myself and was inspired by Ecuadorian Shigras, a vessel-shaped, twined bag made out of agave fibers. When women tried to purchase bags I had made off of my shoulder, I left my loom and weaving behind and started crocheting full-time. My pieces ranged from "every day bags" approximately 6-inches in diameter by 9-inches tall to large vessels used in interiors. My favorite pieces were small, finely-crocheted "evening bags". The majority of these were made out of linen and silk and had drawstring closures out of the most beautiful, one-of-a-kind Japanese kimono silks. I was extremely lucky to know Fifi White and Elizabeth Wilson of Asiatica Ltd. in Kansas City, Missouri. Through them I had access to exquisite fabrics aquired on their regular buying trips to Japan that I never would have been able to purchase anywhere else. I heard Fifi sold her collection of kimonos to the Japanese government years ago, having a better private collection than Japan itself.
Above, a large vessel I made that was the ad for the Baltimore American Craft Show.
I crocheted tapestry linen bags for 20 years, working with galleries throughout the country. My bags are in some pretty-impressive private collections. At times I am sorry I didn't pursue a degree in painting, the area of study I initially intended. But I remind myself that had I done that, I would not know many of the interesting people I consider friends today; which brings me back to the Ribollita.
Back when The Union Square Cafe Cookbook came out in 1994, I purchased it immediately. Everything in that book sounded good, and I have used it many times over the years. I don't know how long I had the book when I realized that all of the watercolors in there were painted by Richard Polsky. Dick had called me right after my second daughter was born, when he had seen an article on my crocheted pieces in American Craft Magazine. In addition to being a painter himself, he is also a collector, and we corresponded on a regular basis after that. When I happened to notice one day Richard Polsky's name on my favorite cookbook, I was stunned. I had no idea. Turns out, he's Danny Meyer's uncle. It's been several years now since I've heard from him. I should drop him a note. I hope all is well. One piece of correspondence that I treasure is a post-card he sent with small frames of original black ink drawings on the front. The card has been displayed on an etagére in my living room since the day I received it.
I picked up The Union Square Cafe Cookbook the other day, deciding on the Ribollita Soup, and then spent some time turning the pages, looking again at the beautiful watercolors of fruits and vegetables that first attracted me to this book.
By the way, I love this soup. It's hearty, healthy and delicious.
from The Union Square Cafe Cookbook by Danny Meyer & Michael Romano
Watercolors by Richard Polsky
• 1 cup dried cannellini or Great Northern beans
• 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
• 4 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 cups diced zucchini
• 1 1/2 cups diced onions
• 2/3 cup diced celery
• 1/2 cup scrubbed and diced carrots
• 1/4 pound pancetta, diced
• 2 tablespoons minced garlic
• 1/2 head savoy cabbage, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces
• 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
• 1/2 cup chopped basil
• 2 cups cleaned spinach leaves
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 4 cups day-old sourdough bread
• 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
• 4 tablespoons olive oil
1. Rinse and cover the beans with cold water and soak overnight.
2. Drain the beans and place them in a saucepan with 8 cups cold water. Cook, covered, for 1 hour. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and continue cooking for an additional 30 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Set the beans aside with their liquid.
3. Over a medium flame, heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Over medium heat, sauté the zucchini, onions, celery, carrots, pancetta, and garlic until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage, tomatoes, basil, and spinach. Season with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes.
4. Strain the beans, reserving their cooking liquid. Purée half the beans in a food processor. Add the puréed beans, the whole beans, and their cooking liquid (8 cups) to the soup pot and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. If there is not enough cooking liquid, add water to make up the difference.
5. Add the diced sourdough bread to the soup and cook for 10 more minutes. Adjust the seasoning. Serve with the Pecorino Romano and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.