The only idiot I know who ever got food poisoning in Florence, Italy is ... well ... me. To the people of Florence, a modest suggestion -- cook your sausage. C'mon man.
What the raw sausage incident meant in foodie terms is that, when I was finally feeling better and could safely leave the immediate proximity of my hotel room's toilet, I wasn't up for any big time food adventures or in the mood for another gigantic, tuscan seared Flintstones-type steak. I did luck out and find a great little local joint, with no menu, but a selection that varied daily. When I had lunch there, the soup of the day was supa de ceci -- just the essence of chick peas in a bowl and, I would point out, the best meal I had in Florence. Amazing stuff.
[The other practical point of the raw sausage pizza incident was that I had to skip the Uffizi Gallery because I would have needed a porta-potty stationed every other painting. I did, however, recover in time to go to the Duomo Museum where I got to sit and stare at Michelangelo's final pieta, pictured here.]
At any rate, I had tried to replicate the magical chick pea soup a number of times with limited success, then I tried a recipe by Anne Burrell which was very close, so I tweaked it to make it a little bit herbier and make the prep simpler.
You will need:
1/4 inch thick piece of pancetta
3 cans of chick peas
2 quarts of chicken stock
1 large, sweet onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
2 bay leaves
pinch of crushed red pepper
1/2 loaf of good italian bread
First, finely dice the pancetta. Heat a soup pot, drizzle a small amount of olive oil over medium heat and add the pancetta. Really let the pancetta cook, you want to render all the delicious porky, fatty goodness. While that's crisping, do the rest of the dice. Add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic and crushed red pepper. I'd usually add salt at this point, but the salt from the pancetta should help the veggies sweat and you risk an overly salty pot of soup if you salt too much at this point. Let these cook for about 10-12 minutes, until good and soft.
While the veg are sweating, rinse the chick peas thoroughly. When the veg are soft, add the chick peas, chicken stock, thyme bundle and bay leaves. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Even though canned chick peas are already cooked, I like mine to really, really cook, so let this simmer for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. After the long simmer, remove the soup from heat and let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes. Check the stock to see if it needs salt. If it does, you can add a pinch here.
Remove the thyme bundle and bay leaves, then puree the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to low heat, while you make the croutons.
Cube the bread and add to a bowl to toss lightly with extra virgin olive oil. Spread the bread crumbs on a cookie sheet, lightly salt, and pop into an oven pre-heated to 350 degrees. When the croutons are lightly browned remove from the oven (about 15 minutes). Don't overcook the croutons -- extremely hard croutons are an affront to proper croutons everywhere.
Ladle the soup into a bowl, give it a little drizzle with a high quality extra virgin olive oil to finish and add a handful of the warm croutons.