This robust soup of vegetables and barley (orzo in italian or ueca in dialect) is a Valle d’Aosta specialty that, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate at a restaurant in that region. If anyone knows where to get seupa or zuppa alla ueca, do let me know! The surprise is a single pork rib hidden in the soup which really doesn’t make any sense in relation to the name, but turns the meal into finger-lickin’ goodness when you pick up that rib and bite into the tender meat. Recipes I’ve seen are all basic procedures for preparing any veggie-grain soup, yet I was bothered to note that nowhere does it stress cooking the pork rib until it is fork tender.
Zuppa all ueca (makes 2 very generous portions)
Note: If you cook the ribs a day (or more) ahead of time it’ll cut down half the work.
2 short pieces of pork ribs or riblet (sized so that they can fit easily into a deep soup bowl)
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 strip bacon, chopped
1/2 cup chopped round onion (white or yellow)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup barley (rinsed and picked through for foreign particles)
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium zucchine, diced
1 medium potato, diced
2 tablespoons chopped italian parlsey (or 1 tablespoon dried)
3 cups water (or chicken broth)
2 slices black bread, or other wholegrain bread
2 thin slices of fontina cheese
For the ribs: bring a small pot of water to a boil and lightly season with salt. Add the ribs, bay leaf and peppcorn. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until tender, about 2-2½ hours.
In a medium soup pot, cook the bacon along with the onions, garlic and a pat of butter until the onions are softened. Add the barley, diced carrots, zucchini, potatoes and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, covered. Add the cooked pork ribs and the parsley; season to taste with salt and cook for another 10 minutes.
Divide the soup between 2 deep bowls and tuck a pork rib in each. Top with a slice of bread, fontina cheese and a pat of butter. Place under a heated broiler until cheese is bubbly and melted. This dish can also be served in a deep casserole.