Stock cubes, extracts, soups and consomme
This is a concentrate of meat or vegetables used in cooking to enhance the flavours of various dishes. It usually comes in the form of a cube packed in aluminium foil. This concentrate can also be found in granules, as dry powder and even in the form of jelly. The main ingredients in stock cubes are salt (in variable quantities), monosodium glutamate (although there are several products on the market that no longer contain this ingredient) and other ingredients depending on the type of stock cube: vegetables for vegetable stock cubes and meat extracts for the so-called classic stock cubes, and then mushrooms, fish, animal and vegetable fats, food flavourings, yeast extracts. In recent years, there has been a diffusion of ready-to-use liquid stocks packaged in cartons (meat, vegetable, etc.).
Meat extract is a particularly important ingredient in cooking, used for many years to flavour and enhance dressings, sauces, stocks, risottos and roast meats. It is a highly concentrated meat stock made by boiling and concentrating lean beef, which is then packaged and stored at room temperature, also for long periods of time.
The name Minestrone derives from the Italian verb minestrare, to administer, because it was served at the table, “administered” by the head of the family. It is more liquid than soup and in addition to the usual vegetables it contains cereals such as rice, pasta, spelt, barley, etc. In Lombardy it is made with rice, while in Veneto and Emilia Romagna, pasta or cappelletti are added.
It is made of vegetables but it can be served with croutons. There is never rice or pasta in a soup. Its name is similar in all European languages, deriving from the Gothic word “suppa”, which indicated the slice of bread that was put in the bowls before the broth was poured in. Soup is thick and has a consistent texture, and there is very little liquid, which is absorbed by bread and croutons. Soup is very popular in Tuscany, particular with collard as the main vegetable, while in Calabria and Sicily they use legumes and beans. In Sardinia, it is traditional to added pieces of cheese.
A French term, now part of Italy’s gastronomic language, indicating a meat, chicken or fish stock eaten hot or cold at the beginning of a meal, usually in the evening. Consomme can be served on its own (perhaps flavoured with a fortified wine such as Port or Madera) or garnished (very thinly cut pasta, almond paste, vegetable julienne, croutons, poached eggs, etc.).
In recent years, ready-to-use stocks have become widespread. It is obtained by boiling beef, poultry, vegetables and extracts in water, after which it is sterilised and packaged in cartons. There are many different variations of liquid stock on the market, and it is used to make soups, risottos, or pasta in broth.