Istrian bean soup – “jota”

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.

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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.

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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.

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Livia’s jota
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
400g sauerkraut
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.

Related posts on this blog:
Livia’s stuffed artichoke (carciofi ripieni)
Livia’s fish stew (brodetto di pesce)

18 comments on “Istrian bean soup – “jota”

  1. I have been making mamma’s iota for a few years now and have her hand-written recipe stuck into one of my recipe books. It never fails to remind me of winters past. And there is nothing more warming and nourishing and delicious!
    Babi x

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  2. Hi again yes this was my mums favorite soup.
    Slight variation to yours. On my mothers family farm (Kuichi) just out of Pula cabbage was grown, then harvested and pickled so jota became a fairly staple and sustaining meal through the year.
    Cheers,
    Loredana

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    • Ciao Loredana, lovely to hear from you. I love that we know the same foods. I have actually tried my hand at pickling the cabbage myself – another 3 weeks to go and I will be able to see if it worked. I bet your mother’s version was just lovely xx

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  3. And I always thought that the photograph of that kiss and hug had more to do with mamma having just announced that she was pregnant with me but knowing Papร ’s fondness for jota, maybe it was that after all!

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  4. When the cubed potatoes are soft, combine the sourkrout soup with the potato and bean soup, and allow to simmer for about 45 more minutes, stirring often.

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  5. Iota, minestra de faxoi, capusi garbi e muset were all winter niceties at our place Paola. Mum was Fiulana through and through like your mum but dad spent most of his childhood at Gorizia on the Sloveninan border and his mum (nee Stepancic)…well you can guess the rest.

    Minestra de faxoi e muset is a good hearty meal all on its own, with or without the sauerkraut. I like mine with a sprinkle of Padano parmesan on top. There isn’t much better on a cold winters day!

    Sanacapana,

    Albert

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  6. Love jota. Lots of variations of course, including some in my mother’s three Triestine cookbooks that include barley and cornmeal. I’ve also been known to chuck in a chorizo sausage or two. Weather perfect for it now.

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    • I use chorizo sometimes too, just such a wonderfully warm winter soup. I am trying to make my own capusi garbi right now – phew what a smell. I hope they work (though my husband is not so sure…)

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  7. I love everything about this post Paola – you have captured such a beautiful piece of family culinary history with this wonderful recipe. The photograph of your parents is just gorgeous!!!

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  8. I’ve been trying to rotate through the different regions of Italy with the thought of perfecting 2 or 3 signature dishes of each region and stumbled in this site. Now I’m half tempted to blog about it. Anyway, I was looking for jota and used most of your recipe. Definitely a keeper.

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