Bean soups abound in Friuli and many are flavored with a ham bone. But the most representative soup of all is Jota (pronounced "yota"), a thick, hearty, smoked pork and sauerkraut soup from Trieste, with clear Austrian/Yugoslavian origins. There are as many versions of Jota as there are cooks; in the Northwestern portion of the region, they include barley, further west they use pickled turnips instead of sauerkraut. Pork is the region's most beloved meat; mountain and hill cookery draws inspiration and sustenance from the pig's versatile meat and transforms every part of the animal into something edible. Though one might not associate sauerkraut with Italy, it's common in Friuli, called "capuzi garbi." While normally cornmeal is added at the end to thicken the soup, instead we're adding the polenta croutons to soak up the extra liquid.
- 1/2 pound dried borlotti beans, pinto or red kidney beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 11/4 cups minced yellow onions
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 4 small smoked pork chops, or 8 ounces other smoked pork, such as smoked ham hock or smoked ham cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 bay leaf, plus 1
- 6 to 8 cups water
- 4 ounces pancetta, chopped
- 1/2 pound sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces prosciutto di San Daniele, finely diced
- Polenta croutons, recipe below
- Extra-virgin olive oil, topping
Place the beans in a large bowl. Cover with cold water by 2 inches and soak overnight. Drain.
In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 bay leaf and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the pork chops and cook, turning, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beans and enough water to cover (6 to 7 cups) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, about 1 hour.
With a heavy wooden spoon or potato masher, mash about half of the beans against the sides of the pot. Continue cooking until very tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in another pot, cook the pancetta over medium heat until the fat is rendered, about 6 minutes. Add the sauerkraut, 1 cup of water, the remaining bay leaf, the sugar, peppercorns, and salt. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender and aromatic, about 30 minutes.
Add the sauerkraut mixture to the beans and stir well to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaves. Ladle into 4 deep bowls, giving each person 1 pork chop. Place several fried croutons in each bowl and top with the diced prosciutto. Grind freshly ground black pepper over the top and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Serve.
3 cups water
1 cup polenta
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup olive oil
In a heavy medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Stir the polenta and salt into the water, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, stirring from time to time. Cook until the polenta is cooked through and thickens, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until smooth. Pour the polenta onto a lightly oiled, baking sheet and spread to about 3/4-inch thick. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 1 day in advance.
Run a knife around the edge of the baking sheet and unmold the polenta onto a cutting board. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares and refrigerate, wrapped, until ready to cook.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the polenta squares in batches and cook quickly until golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining polenta, adding more oil as needed.
Yield: 4 servings