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Category: Pasta

Meatball Soup with Pasta & Herbs (Cheat’s Gushbara) – updated

This meatballs and pasta soup recipe is probably very different from any you’ve ever tried so get yourself prepared for a whole new flavour combination! There is a lot of coriander, garlic and mint in the broth for this soup that give it it’s fabulous aroma and set it apart from other meatball and pasta soups.

This is my cheat’s version of a moreish soup called by a myriad of names all over Iran, Central Asia and the Caucasus.  Each one of these soups is a bit different from the others but they are all made with pasta shaped like tortellini or ravioli. My version is close to one made in northwest Iran and the neighbouring Azerbaijan.

meatballs-and-pasta-soup-recipe
Same soup with different type of pasta

I learnt to make the original version of gushbara from my mother-in-law who is a fabulous cook. Her skill in making pasta dough, rolling the dough and filling small dumplings for the soup has always fascinated me. Hers is finger-licking delicious but takes a lot of time to prepare. But I loved this soup and had to find a way to make something that tasted similar but was easier to make so I came up with this recipe.

Herby soups are part and parcel of Persian cooking. No wonder the word for cook in Persian (ashpaz) is derived from the word for soup (ash, a is pronounced as in art). So a cook is one who makes soups! There are literally hundreds of types of soups with all kinds of flavours, from savoury to sweet and sour, completely vegetarian or with different kinds of meat. Some are thickened with flour, others with noodles, rice, whole grains like wheat and barley or bulgur.

Persian-tomato-soup
A sample of herby Persian soups made with loads of fresh tomatoes.

There are also some soups that are made with pieces of pasta dough like the one from which I’ve taken the inspiration for my cheat’s gushbara. Gushbara translates to “earring” or “like ear lobes” in Persian, because of the shape of the tiny dumplings in the original version.

You may call my gushbara a “deconstructed” version of the real thing. I make it with shop-bought Italian pasta shapes like orecchiette, creste di gallo, farfalle or cappelletti but any kind of pasta shape or even little squares of homemade pasta dough can be used instead. Using dry pasta cuts the preparation time but flavour-wise the end result is quite similar to the original. Critic No 1 (my lovely son and my best food critic) approves of my cheat’s version and is always begging me to make it for him. He is quite a soup expert!

Ingredients for the tiny meatballs
Ingredients for the tiny meatballs
Tiny meatballs ready to be fried
Tiny meatballs ready to be fried
Meatballs almost ready to cook in the broth
Meatballs almost ready to cook in the broth

This curious pasta soup has a long and interesting history too. There are many versions known as gushbarajushpara, jushbaratushbera, dushbara and chuchvara in some regions of Iran, former soviet republics of Central Asia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Afghanistan. A friend from Jordan told me her grandmother made jushbara too but had no idea where it came from.

I’m not going to debate the origins of the dish. My best guess is that it was brought to Iran and all adjacent countries by nomadic Turkic tribes centuries ago and they may have adopted that from an earlier Chinese version. I found a recipe in a 16th century Persian cookbook but the book doesn’t say where the soup originated. It’s fascinating how the dish evolved over the centuries in all these places and how each nation now has claims to its origins.

Today many versions are enjoyed in various parts of Iran where the fillings and flavourings can vary hugely. In some places the pasta parcels are filled with lamb, in others with lentils. Some are made with broth, others with sauce, much like ravioli. I made one recently from eastern regions of Iran with spinach and walnut dumplings. If there could be a cheat’s version of that I’d make it all the time.

In our family gushbara is served with torshi (chopped vegetables pickled in vinegar and spices). When there isn’t any torshi we use lime/lemon juice or good wine vinegar flavoured with garlic paste.

To serve four persons you will need the following ingredients:

  • 250g lean beef mince
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tbsp dried mint
  • 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper or mild chilli flakes
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, grated
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 20g butter (or 4 tbsp of olive oil)
  • 1 1/2 litre boiling water or stock (beef, lamb or chicken)
  • 150g pasta (creste di gallo, farfalle, cappelletti, orecchiette or other pasta shape)
  • 50g coriander, roughly chopped (or more if you love coriander like I do)

Method: 

  1. Squeeze the grated onion with the back of a spoon to extract most of the juices. Discard the onion juice.
  2. Put the mince, spices, salt, mint, grated onion and grated garlic in a bowl. Mix and knead for a couple of minutes. Take small pieces of the mixture and shape into small meatballs.
  3. Melt the butter in a medium-sized frying pan over medium high heat and add the meatballs. Fry the meatballs until lightly browned.
  4. Transfer the meatballs to a medium-sized saucepan. Deglaze the frying pan with some of the boiling water (or stock) and add the juices to the meatballs. Top up with the rest of the water or stock. Bring to the boil. Taste and add salt if required.
  5. Add all the pasta and stir. Cook for at least 15 minutes. Forget about al dente, the pasta should become very soft and thicken the broth a little. Taste and adjust the seasoning again. If there is too little broth to your liking dilute the soup with a little more boiling water or stock.
  6. Add the chopped coriander and cook for a couple of minutes until the coriander is a little wilted. Serve immediately with lime/lemon wedges or vinegar and more chopped coriander if you wish. Enjoy!

Penne Rigate with Mushrooms, Peppers, Asparagus and Marinated Artichoke

Have you ever realised you have lots of fresh and cooked vegetables in the fridge that you can’t keep for more than a couple of days? I’m sure you have! And so did I on the day that I made this yummy dish. It was basically my fridge-cleaning day in preparation for the weekly vegetable shopping.

The fridge-cleaning day pasta turned out so delicious and so light I had to write down the ingredients to make sure I would remember how to make it again.

There had been a bit of this and a bit of that in the fridge. I had opened a jar of artichokes in olive oil a couple of nights before and there was some steamed asparagus from another meal. There were also a few fresh red bell pepper and three portobello mushrooms that I had to use up.

Artichokes in oil, a great addition to pasta and salads.
Artichokes in oil, a great addition to pasta and salads. They come prepared in a jar so no cooking is required. Increase the amount of other vegetables if you don’t have them to hand.

My first thought was to make mixed rice but then I remembered that was what we had the night before. I didn’t have much time and needed to make something that didn’t require long preparation and cooking. Pasta is always among my top choices at these times. So pasta it was going to be!

I put the water on for cooking the pasta and began sautéing sliced red peppers and portobello mushrooms. Portobello is a large flat mushroom and quite meaty. I use it in the place of meat/chicken in many of my favourite dishes. If you don’t have them to hand the next best choice will be chestnut (brown) mushrooms but any kind of mushroom, as long as it is not too delicate, will work in this recipe.

Sautéeing sliced portobello mushrooms and red pepper in olive oil.
Sautéing sliced portobello mushrooms and red pepper in olive oil.

My marinated artichoke and asparagus were already cooked. Both added lovely flavour and texture to the dish but you can skip one or even both. You can also substitute cooked whole green bean for the asparagus or use leftover broccoli. That’s the beauty of this dish, it can be made with nearly any vegetable mix and will be delicious as long as you use the right seasoning, spices and herbs.

I know you are thinking: “So what’s so special about this dish? It’s just a mixture of vegetables and pasta!” But there was a difference. I love the Italian way of making pasta dishes but whether I want it or not, very often I end up adding a Persian twist to whatever it is that I’m making.

My twist was to steam the pasta briefly after mixing it with the vegetables in the same way that we steam Persian rice over low heat. This allows the flavours of the ingredients to meld into the pasta.If the heat is very low and you steam the pasta long enough you may even get a crispy golden layer of pasta in the bottom of the pan that’s simply heavenly!

I know this is not the Italian way but dear Italians, please please forgive me if I’m messing  up with your lovely recipes because I’m a Persian cook after all!

Mixture of pasta and vegetables ready for steaming.
Mixture of pasta and vegetables ready for steaming.

While the pasta was steaming I made a lovely lettuce salad and set the table. I think it took me about forty-five minutes from beginning to putting the dinner on the table. Dinner was much faster than I had hoped and so delicious I could have it for several days without getting bored!

To make this dish for four people you will need the following ingredients:

Ingredients:

  • 400 g penne rigate or similar pasta
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 large red peppers, thinly sliced
  • 3 large portobello mushrooms (or 250 g chestnut) mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp paprika or sweet smoked paprika
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp fresh or 1/2 tsp dried thyme or savory, chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • A small bunch of baby asparagus, cooked
  • 1/2 jar artichoke in oil, drained
  • Grated parmesan or grana padano cheese to pass around at the table

Method: 

  1. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large lidded frying pan over medium heat until very hot. Add the sliced garlic and sauté until golden. Remove from the oil and keep for using in other dishes. The garlic is needed only for flavouring the oil.
  3. Add the sliced peppers and sauté until slightly soft.
  4. Add the sliced mushrooms to the peppers and continue cooking until mushrooms are soft too. Sprinkle with the chopped thyme, paprika and sea salt. Add the tomato paste and stir over medium heat for a minute or two. Turn off the heat.
  5. When the water comes to boil add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions or until al dente. Drain well.
  6. Add the pasta and drained artichokes to the frying pan and stir gently to coat the pasta in the flavoured oil and vegetables.
  7. Cover the frying pan with the lid and cook on medium low heat for two minutes. Turn down the heat to very low and continue cooking for ten minutes or until steam begins to rise from the pasta. Add the asparagus and cook for two more minutes. Serve with the grated cheese and a bowl of lettuce salad lightly dressed in olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Enjoy!