Apart from rovelline lucchesi this is perhaps the most classic and famous dish from Lucca and unlike many Italian dishes which different regions try to claim as their own, no one disputes the fact that Garmugia and Lucca are inextricably linked.
It is also one of our personal favorites because out of all the seasons of the year we are most fond of spring vegetables. Unfortunately for us the window for Garmugia is narrow because it includes artichokes, asparagus, fresh fava beans and fresh peas and the intersection of all of these in Italy is limited to March and April only. But we can get through a lot of Garmugia in two months.
This is a recipe that goes back over 300 years but unlike many Italian recipes from history this was not part of la cucina povera because it includes the best and freshest vegetables as well as pancetta and traditionally ground meat of some kind. In fact it’s a very elegant dish that was enjoyed by people of means. It requires a bit of work to prepare everything but it’s not one of those pedantic recipes that generates strongly held opinions, especially regarding the inclusion of meat, so you can adjust quantities and certain ingredients without compromising the essence of the dish.
We’ve got this far without mentioning that Garmugia is actually a soup but don’t be fooled by this description, it is not a simple first course but rather a filling, healthy and nutritious dinner that is bursting with flavor. For some people the only problem with this dish will be the fact that however quickly you can shell peas, pod beans and trim artichokes it’s just not possible to make this soup from start to finish in under 60 minutes and therefore this recipe may be destined to languish in the Slow Recipes section unloved and ignored by some people, but if so it will be their loss.
Ingredients for 4 people: (seen note 1 below)
175 grams ( 6 oz ) net weight of shelled peas
200 grams ( 7 oz ) net weight of podded fava beans
225 grams ( 7.5 oz ) net weight of trimmed asparagus
130 grams ( 4.5 oz ) of green (spring) onions, including green stems
70 grams ( 2.5 oz ) pancetta (see note 2 below)
175 grams meat ( 6 oz ) (see note 3 below)
1.25 liters chicken stock
about 30 stale bread croutons
juice of half a lemon
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
extra virgin Italian olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. We tend to be practical in the kitchen so the quantity of these ingredients with respect to the fresh vegetables was dictated, within reason, by the quantities picked up at the fruttivendolo. Guessing the net weight of peas and beans when you buy them in pods is difficult so you can vary these amounts as circumstances dictate or according to your preference for certain of the ingredients over others.
2. This was perhaps the first time we both appreciated how much difference super high quality pancetta can make to a recipe like this. We were both amazed by the initial aroma of the pancetta as it gently fried in the pan before adding the green onions. Although the pancetta to be found in Italian supermarkets is always good quality, this pancetta was sublime and looking at the packet we saw that it was bought from Bruna in Colonnata at the same time as we bought her lardo and it’s probably worth a return trip up the mountain just to buy more. So try to source some excellent pancetta for this recipe.
3. Although most Garmugia recipes call for fresh ground beef we dropped that in favor of chunks of pre-cooked pork loin, the leftovers in fact from an exquisite Arista dinner the previous night, and it was perfect. But whatever you choose, make it good quality and our personal thought here is that whether it’s beef, pork or chicken, it’s much easier to use the leftovers of a previously great dinner recovered from the fridge or freezer, chopped quite small and reheated in this dish rather than cooking minced meat from scratch. Purists may disagree.
4. Most of the cooking for this dish is done in a large frying pan by adding the ingredients in a specific order. As for a classic Italian minestrone, the process of sautéing is important to bring out all the flavors of the vegetables with the stock being added only towards the end. This is not a soup where the ingredients are cooked primarily by boiling them.
1. Prepare all the vegetables: shell the peas, pod the beans, trim the artichokes into quite small pieces (and leave in lemon water until ready to use), cut the asparagus spears into 1 inch pieces but reserve the tender tips to add to the soup towards the end. Chop the green onions including the edible green parts.
2. Heat the chicken stock in a large stockpot. Cut the stale bread into one inch pieces and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
3. Add a generous amount of olive oil to a large frying pan, chop the pancetta into small pieces and fry on medium high heat for about 4 minutes stirring them so they don't burn, then add the chopped green onions and cook for another 3 minutes.
4. Add the artichoke pieces, cook for another 4 minutes, followed by the beans and asparagus and another 3 minutes of cooking time.
5. Add the peas, cook briefly for a couple of minutes, season well with salt and pepper then pour the entire contents into the stockpot with the hot chicken stock.
6. Reheat the small pieces of meat quickly in the frying pan and add to the stockpot together with the reserved asparagus tips. Bring the soup to a boil briefly and then simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the juice from half a lemon.
7. Meanwhile put the croutons in the hot frying pan, add a generous amount of oil to coat them well and turn off the heat after a couple of minutes.
8. Serve the soup in large bowls with plenty of croutons on top, add grated parmigiano reggiano and a good slug of high quality olive oil to finish. With dishes like this we can't emphasize enough the extra boost that a generous drizzle of the best Italian olive oil gives to all the flavors. Being a Lucchese dish nothing could be better than the aromatic olive oil from La Badiola and a bottle of Stoppielle from the same azienda to accompany this meal. A local recipe always tends to go well with a local wine and a local olive oil.