(as told by S.A. Belzer,
Dining In/Dining Out section
The New York Times,
December 17, 1997)
Mr. Belzer was kind enough to relate the background of this article and recipe--itself a fascinating soup tale. He had taken an autumn walking tour in the Pyrenees and Basque country that included a stop at the Hostal Burguete, famous as a stopover for "Papa"--and also for his protagonist Jake Barnes--where both were served "a big bowl of hot vegetable soup" (see below). The group of 18 on the walking tour were distinctly divided on the subject of Hemingway. In Mr. Belzer's words, most "were indifferent to Hemingway at best; some loathed him. It was more a personal than a literary reaction, having to do with the male chauvinism, traces of racism and anti-Semitism in his work, and the mean-spiritedness of 'A Moveable Feast.' I was his lone defender for what he did to change the writing of the novel in English--and, yes, also because he was a newspaperman, and we newspaper people have a warm spot in our hearts for him as one of us." On one subject, however, they were in agreement. The vegetable soup was wonderful. Out of this experience, his article in The New York Times was born.
Recreating the soup, however, was the hard part. The process by which the attached recipe was created not only testifies to The New York Times' meticulousness in research--it also gives a wonderful insight into the inner workings of newspaper food sections:
1. A member of the staff, who owned a house in southern Spain, called the Hostal Burguete and, after a flurry of calls and faxes, obtained a simple list of ingredients and brief cooking instructions.
2. Another member of the staff took the ingredients to a friend who ran a Basque restaurant in New York City. The restauranteur made comments and corrections, then provided quantities for the ingredients.
3. Finally, a cookbook writer-editor was tasked to whip the recipe into familiar shape and test it. Result: it was good.
And so the final story and recipe below appeared on December 17, 1997, two months after the experience.
Not since Ernest Hemingway discovered bullfighting has the Basque country of Spain been so much in the American eye as now, because of the opening there of the Guggenheim Museum. The startling building in Bilbao, the Basque capital, has come to anchor like a great silver ship on the Nervion River. It promises to attract more visitors to the region than did "The Sun Also Rises," Hemingway's 1926 novel about the fiesta of the bulls in Pamplona....
About 80 miles east of Bilbao, however, across Euskal Herria, as the Basques call their mountainous region, is Burguete, a town that has long depended on tourists and is eager for more. There, the region's association with Hemingway lives on. The novelist stopped at Burguete to fish for trout as part of his trip to the Feast of San Fermin in Pamplona in 1924. And Jake Barnes, the narrator of "The Sun Also Rises," goes to Burguete with his friend Bill Gorton before the bullfights.
They stay at an inn about 3,000 feet above sea level. Though it's late June, the low-ceilinged, oak paneled dining room is cold. Bill sits at a piano and plays to keep warm. 'The girl brought in a big bowl of hot vegetable soup and the wine,' Hemingway wrote. 'We had fried trout afterward and some sort of stew and a big bowl full of wild strawberries.'
By that slender thread hangs the tourist trade of the Hostal Burguete, a converted farmhouse. It serves a hearty country soup and trout with ham. Visitors can see a piano into which someone has carved 'E. Heminway,' with a date in 1923. One tour group that stopped there this fall had mixed feelings about Hemingway, but praised the soup unanimously. To warm the cold winter nights ahead, here is the recipe for the soup with which a Basque town remembers an American writer.
Adapted from Hostal Burguete, Spain
Total time: 3 hours
1. In a medium (4- to 6- quart) soup pot over low heat, combine olive oil, onion, leeks and garlic. Saute until onion has softened, about 10 minutes. Add 9 cups of water, ham, white beans and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, covered, until beans are tender, about 2 1/2 hours.
2. Add cabbage and green beans. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Add green peas and continue to simmer 5 minutes more. Remove and discard ham. Adjust seasonings, and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 390 calories, 15 grams fat, 4 milligrams cholesterol, 240 milligrams sodium (before salting), 15 grams protein, 50 grams corbohydrate.