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Broccoli Rising, Feasting and Fasting
Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Jews all over the world set aside this day to reflect on our misdeeds and atone for them, to right personal wrongs, and ask to be inscribed in the Book of Life, or at least renew our subscription for another year.
So how do you do that?
By taking a good hard look at yourself— tougher than you might think.
By praying for forgiveness.
By observing a 25-hour fast.
I used to think Yom Kippur was a downer holiday, especially falling ten days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when we celebrate having a fresh start. Why dredge up all the rottenness of the past year? Get over it, it’s history! And on top of that, there’s the fasting bit, abstaining from food and drink. This makes my husband, who requires constant feeding, extremely nervous.
Fasting can focus the mind for prayer. For those of us fortunate enough to eat every day, it can unsettle the mind and body a little too. It reminds us of our human frailty, of what a needy species we are. It keeps us from getting too uppity. No wonder fasting doesn’t get great press. Even so, though I’m hardly the most devout Jew on the planet, I’m fasting today.
Over the years, I’ve come to embrace the other aspects of Yom Kippur, too — the reckoning of wrongs, the praying for forgiveness. Because hopefully, we learn from our mistakes. As George Santayana said (and Winston Churchill got credited for), “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I’d say we have to go even further. It’s not enough to remember the past, we have own it, individually and collectively. As messy and shameful as much of our history is, to deny or suppress it is worse.
Fasting reminds us we can’t have everything all the time. It shows we’re willing to make a small sacrifice in order to do better going forward. And it gives us renewed appreciation of what we do have. A simple bowl of soup can be a feast. For Viktor Frankl and for so many others in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, it was more than that. As Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, soup could mean life.
Frankl survived Auschwitz thanks to God’s grace, a little soup, and a determination to find meaning in the most dire of circumstances. Frankl created logotherapy. Here’s the short version — when faced with the truth, however ugly, we can deny it or accept it and try to learn from it. “In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Admitting to our wrongs can make fasting feel like a feast, but that’s how we start to heal. Yom Kippur is our opportunity to make things right.
Soup, after a full day’s fast, may appear meager, a letdown. But soup is hydrating, and hydration, despite your stomach urging you to suck down the entire contents of your refrigerator, is what your body needs most.
This recipe, pappa al pomodoro, is both hydrating and far from meager. It’s robust, rustic and Italian in origin, a marriage of stale bread and the season’s last glorious burst of ripe tomatoes. It’s easy to digest, easy on the wallet. It’s a genius way to make more with less and waste nothing, a frugal feast.
May it fortify you, me, all of us. May we be inscribed in the Book of Life. May we go forward together to build a healing, hopeful world where there’s enough for all. Shanah Tovah — may it be a good year.
Pappa al Pomodoro
1/2 bunch kale or other greens, tough center stems removed
2 tablespoons olive oil plus a little more to finish
1 small onion chopped
3 garlic cloves chopped
pinch red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes or 1-1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups stale bread cubes made from 4 or 5 slices of bread *
2 to 3 cups water or vegetable broth
1 handful of fresh basil leaves. sliced into skinny ribbons the official culinary term is chiffonade
olive oil for finishing
Heat a large pot of salted water. Immerse greens and give them a quick blanche to keep color bright and nutrients intact. Rinse and drain. When cool, chop the greens well, and set aside.
Wipe out the pot and heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chopped onions, chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes. The oil should be hot enough so the vegetables sizzle. Cook for five minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and turn golden and fragrant.
Add chopped greens and bread and give the mixture a stir, so the bread starts to soften, and the oil gilds everything.
Reduce heat to medium. Gently pour in tomatoes, taking care to avoid splatters. Now add 2 cups water or vegetable broth. Stir to combine, then cover the pot and let the soup simmer for about 10 minutes.
When you come back, stir again. If soup seems too thick for you, add the remaining water or broth. Season generously with sea salt and pepper and add the basil chiffonade.
Serve with a finishing drizzle of olive oil
*Traditionally made from a day-old loaf of Italian bread, I use old whole grain bread, because I’m a whole grains kind of girl and I use what I have. Remove crusts if you’re fussy, but the bread will collapse into the soup with or without them.
Looking for a printable version of this recipe? Grab it here.
More hearty, hydrating soups
Back to nature vegetable soup
Sallie Ann Robinson’s tomato, corn, green lima and okra soup
Fasolia gigante soup with spinach from my brilliant James Beard-award-winning friend, Anna Thomas
Starting in October, look for more Broccoli Confidential online cooking classes, interviews, and other special events and opportunities for paid subscribers. Free subscribers, you’ll always receive my free weekly Broccoli Rising newsfeed. But consider upgrading to paid membership. I’d hate you to miss out.
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