My mother knew nothing about jota (pronounced yoh-tah) when she met my father. She was from Veneto and for her it was all about polenta and risotto. Jota is all about beans, smoked pork and sauerkraut. That’s right, sauerkraut (or capusi garbi in local dialect). You may not think this sounds very Italian, but Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the northeast corner of Italy and Istria were once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. So it makes complete sense. And it was my father’s favourite winter dish, so my mamma learnt to make it, much to his great delight.
She tells me that she learnt how to make jota (also spelled iota) from the polesane (women from Pola where papa’ was born) once she had moved to Australia. Each had their own slightly different way of making it, varying the proportion of similar ingredients. Some added pork sausages or ham hocks instead of pancetta (pork belly) to the soup. Others added more or less potatoes or carrots. Some added a bit of tomato for a richer colour. The result was a rich, thick hearty soup with smoky pork, wholesome beans and a delicious hint of sourness from the sauerkraut. It is not a pretty soup – but the rich flavor and texture make up for this. It brings back memories of winter evenings with the family, tucking into the delicious jota, mopping it up with bread and sipping red wine whilst watching the frost on the outside window.
Last week when I made jota I used pancetta (as I always keep a supply in the fridge) and I would have loved to have had some pork sausages, which I could have boiled and then added to the jota cut up in large chunks. Or I could have added a ham hock at the start whilst the beans are cooking. You could even leave out the meat and make a vegetarian version. The variations of this winter warmer are endless. And of course I mopped up the jota with crusty bread (far le sope col pan). The photo below is taken at mamma’s house – she had made a delicious pot of iota with a mix of red kidney beans and borlotti beans. When she served it up she sighed – commenting how much my father would have loved the meal.
400g dried borlotti (or mix red kidney and borlotti) beans, soaked in water overnight
1 large potato, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium sized carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
100g pancetta, diced
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for cooking
Drain the beans and add to a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add 1.5 liters of water, the carrot, potato and bay leaves. Turn the heat on, pop on the lid and simmer for at least 30 minutes until the bean are tender with a fork but still whole. Remove half the beans with a slotted spoon and set aside. Place the remaining vegetables and stock into a food processor or process using a stick blender (remove and discard the bay leaves first). Return the soup to the saucepan and place the whole beans into it. Put on low heat whilst you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Place the pancetta in a frypan with a dash of oil and cook on medium to low heat for about 10 minutes until it softens ( you could do this whilst the beans are cooking to save time). Add the onion and a splash more olive oil and cook for about 10 more minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes until it is fragrant. Stir the lot into the soup.
Open the jar/tin of sauerkraut. Taste and if it is too sour to your taste, cook it in a small saucepan with a dash of water for a few minutes. Taste it again until the sourness has reduced to your taste. Add the sauerkraut to the soup. Stir well and warm on the stove for about five minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Your jota is now ready to eat.