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Is it soupy yet?

By Joyce Conlon

Publication: The Day

Published March 27. 2013 4:00AM   Updated March 27. 2013 10:02AM
Tim Martin/The Day
David Grills, left, of Pawcatuck, cuts up pork as he works with family members in preparing soupy in the basement of the Italo-American Club in Pawcatuck on Jan. 13. His grandsons David Grills, behind him, of Mystic, Brandon Grills, right, of Pawcatuck, and Kris Grills, third from right, of New York City, work with his two sons Steve Grills, center, of Mystic, and Jim Grills, second from right, of Mystic.

While it's not as customary as Cadbury eggs and jelly beans, a breakfast frittata in an Italian household is an Easter tradition.

A frittata is an Italian dish that combines selected ingredients with eggs but does not fold them inside, as with a traditional omelet. A frittata is more firm than an omelet because it's cooked slowly over low heat or baked in the oven. This versatile dish usually has a short preparation time - that is if you are not including soppressata, a particularly popular addition among those of Italian heritage.

The process to make this spicy dry-cured meat, more commonly known as "soupy," is time-consuming and, take note, not for the squeamish. It involves chopping and grinding pork butt, cleaning lengths of cow intestines (pork intestines are not as pliable) and a strong forearm.

Dave Grills is an old hand at the process. The Pawcatuck resident has been making soupy for more than 60 years, first exposed in 1952 by his in-laws whose ancestors were from Calabria, Italy. He remembers in vivid detail making soupy with a hand-cranked meat grinder and sausage stuffer.

"Back in the early '50s there was a small grocery-meat market called Liguori's in Westerly. The owner - he was a good man - he'd let you use his grinder so long as you bought the cushion meat (pork) from him," said Grills.

The market sold its own soupy, and Grills said at some point Frank Liguori gave him his soupy recipe. Grills later learned Liguori gave the recipe to a few others and eventually the recipe circulated throughout town. Still, Grills keeps the recipe close; when asked about the recipe, he pulls it from his wallet.

Every winter, Grills along with a number of relatives or friends chip in for the ingredients and just after Christmas they gather, usually at the Italian-American Club, and produce several pounds of soupy, enough to carry each of them through to the next year. The ritual can go on for days depending on how many soupy-makers join the group. Sixty pounds one day, another 60 the next and maybe another hefty amount the day after that.

Once the meat is mixed and spiced to satisfaction, it is extruded into a long tube of casing (the cow intestines), tied off at each end and hung to cure in a basement or attic for four to six weeks. Fear not: soupy-makers are diligent about the safety side of meat-curing. When air-drying meat, the environment must be kept within a certain temperature and humidity range. The temperature should be high enough for the meat to cure properly and dry, but low enough so bad bacteria and mold don't develop - roughly 38 to 44 degrees.

For the past several years, Grills has limited himself to making soupy with just his sons and grandsons. The three generations not only enjoy this pungent pleasure and the rewards of perfecting the process - grilling the meat and controlling quality, spiciness and flavor - as they go, they also value the rarity of spending time together.

Oldest grandson Kris Grills says, "We have a great time with Grampa. We do a lot of ragging on each other, and there's a lot of laughing."

He, his brother and cousins have no doubts about taking the reins some day and keeping their grandfather's soupy-making knowledge in the family. They will use the same recipe, although Kris said he might make his soupy hotter and spicier. Flavors in sopressata vary - some are sweet, others are salty or spicy. It is commonly served sliced thin, like pepperoni, with cheese and crackers. Soupy is more dense, chewy and flavorful than pepperoni, which makes it a pleasantly sharp addition to pizza and calzones.

Soupy, before curing, also can be cooked up as a patty, crumbled into casseroles, or fried with potatoes.

As for the recipe Grills showed me, it includes the pork, salt, pepper, cayenne and paprika. However, there were no specific measurements for each ingredient listed. Down at the bottom of the still decipherable sheet of paper, the quantity of one ingredient - beer - is specific. The amount? Lots.

Grills notes of the chefs' reward, "No, the beer doesn't go in the soupy."

Editor's note: Two of the soupie-makers mentioned in this story are the author's sons.

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Dave and Rosemarie Grills' Easter Frittata

Serves 18

6 dozen eggs whisked with salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups water
2 pounds crumbled uncured soupy
1 pound Easter basket cheese cut up in chunks
2 pounds ricotta cheese
Whisk the eggs with water, salt and pepper; add ricotta and blend.
Cook soupy until browned.
Divide egg mixture among two large baking pans sprayed with nonstick cooking spray and add soupy and basket cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees, stirring occasionally until desired texture, approximately 35 to 40 minutes.

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