With my soup-eating habit being nearly legendary, I’ve made my soup making into a near-religious experience. When I’m meditatively chopping vegetables and herbs to add to a pot of homemade stock, I feel blessed with abundance and that all is right with the world.

I’m so blissed out on soup that I make a potful a week, delighting in knowing that there is always a container of “fast food” in the fridge, ready to heat up at a moment’s notice to fill my own belly and share with whoever happens to come into my life that day.

I’ve been collecting soup recipes for years now and have a “soup bible” that I often use for inspiration and guidance. I peruse this well-loved collection, full of yellow highlights, scribbles in the margins, and penned-in stars, often.

If you were to pull it off the shelf and take a glimpse, you might see these handwritten notes: “Needed more garlic,” “Not so many beans,” “Double It!” “Winner!” and “This needs work …”

My kitchen is never without soup bones, onions, celery, carrots, and herbs; everything I need for a basic stock. Sometimes I don’t even crack open the soup bible, I just begin chopping and see where my imagination takes me.

This hearty soup with loads of vegetables has not only sustained me through many a winter’s day but brings me a bit closer to Italy, if only through my nostrils and my taste buds. Served with Tuscany Buns, this is a way to travel to that wonderful place without getting on a plane.

As the soup simmers on the back of the stove and the buns bake, the delicious aromas convey that I’m providing something good for myself and for those I love. I have what I need right here at home.

Any good jam works for the Almond Tea Cookies, but if you have a jar of homemade jam made with berries you picked over the summer, even better!

This cookie recipe was handed down to my mom by her mother’s sister, my dear great-aunt Hazel. You will hear more about this amazing cook (and others) in the future.

Italian Country Vegetable Soup

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 oz. chopped prosciutto
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. dried parsley
  • 3 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 tsp. oregano
  • 8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated plus more for serving
  • 1 15.8 ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed (Great Northern or Cannellini)
  • 3 cups baby spinach, kale or Swiss chard, torn with stems removed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add prosciutto, onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add cabbage and herbs, cook 1 minute more. Stir in stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, and cheese. Bring to a boil then allow to simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes, adding more liquid if needed.

Remove lid, add beans and greens. Simmer uncovered until greens are tender, 5-10 minutes. Serve with more grated Parmesan cheese. Yield: 8-10 servings

Tuscany Buns

  • 1 pkg. (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water (100-110 degrees)
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp. shortening
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add sugar, salt, garlic salt, oregano, egg, shortening and 1 cup flour. Beat with electric mixer at low speed until smooth. Stir in remaining flour until well-blended.
Scrape batter from sides of bowl and cover the dough with a clean towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Grease 12 medium-sized muffin cups. Stir down batter and spoon into the cups. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on the muffin tops. Cover with towel and allow to rise until batter reaches tops of cups; approximately 30 more minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from muffin pan and serve warm. Yield: 1 dozen muffins

Great-aunt Hazel’s Tea Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. almond extract or Amaretto liqueur
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 2/3 cups flour
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/3-1/2 cup strawberry jam
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Combine butter, sugar, flavoring, egg yolks and salt in a large bowl and beat with electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup flour then add remaining flour, stirring until well-blended. Chill dough at least 30 minutes.

Place egg whites in a small bowl and beat until foamy.

Roll dough into 1-1 1/2- inch balls and place on cookie sheets. Make a small thumbprint in the middle of each cookie then brush each one with egg white before filling the indent with a bit of jam and a tiny sprinkle of nuts. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until firm and browning on the bottoms. Time may vary depending on the size of the cookies. Yield: 3-4 dozen.

Because I want this column to really connect with Coastal Journal readers and to be interactive, please share your recipes if you feel compelled to do so. I will test them in my kitchen at the cove and include them as room allows.

Of course, your questions and comments are always welcome and will be answered. Send your letters to [email protected] or in care of the Coastal Journal.