Today is the birthday (1876) of Constantin Brâncuși a Romanian sculptor, painter and photographer who was a pioneer of modernism and one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century. Brâncuși grew up in the village of Hobiţa, Gorj, near Târgu Jiu, close to Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, an area known for its rich tradition of folk crafts, particularly woodcarving. Geometric patterns of the region can be seen in his later works. His parents Nicolae and Maria Brâncuși were poor peasants who earned a meager living through back-breaking labor. From the age of 7, he herded the family’s flock of sheep. He showed talent for carving objects out of wood, and often ran away from home to escape the bullying of his father and older brothers.
At the age of 9, Brâncuși left the village to work in the nearest large town. At 11 he went into the service of a grocer in Slatina; and then he became a domestic in a public house in Craiova where he remained for several years. When he was 18, Brâncuși built a violin by hand with materials he found around his workplace. Impressed by Brâncuși’s talent for carving, an industrialist entered him in the Craiova School of Arts and Crafts (școala de arte și meserii), where he pursued his love for woodworking, graduating with honors in 1898.
Brâncuși then enrolled in the Bucharest School of Fine Arts, where he received academic training in sculpture and quickly distinguished himself. One of his earliest surviving works, under the guidance of his anatomy teacher, Dimitrie Gerota, is a masterfully rendered écorché (statue of a man with skin removed to reveal the muscles underneath) which was exhibited at the Romanian Athenaeum in 1903. Though just an anatomical study, it foreshadowed his later efforts to reveal essence rather than merely copy outward appearance.
Here’s a little gallery. In my humble opinion no one has been able to capture the essence of humanity better than Brâncuși through sheer simplicity of line. He decried the label “abstract artist” and I could not agree more. There is nothing abstract about his work.
This soup, ciorbã tãrãneasca, echoes Brâncuși’s work in a way because (a) it is a Carpathian peasant dish, and (b) it combines simplicity with complexity. Ciorbã is the Romanian word for “soup” and comes from the Turkish word – “çorba.” The word “tãrãneasca” can be translated as “traditional” or “peasant.” The souring agent for this ciorbã can be lemon juice, sauerkraut juice, vinegar, sour grape leaves, or green sorrel leaves (my favorite). Sorrel is easy to grow in your garden; it is perennial and prolific, surviving drought and poor soil with no trouble. Obviously this is a simple vegetable soup, so any combination is fine. The trick is to balance the hot and sour notes. You’ll need to play with it.
400g slab bacon, cut in small dice
200g fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 chile pepper, roughly chopped
yoghurt or sour cream
fresh parsley, roughly chopped
lemon juice (optional)
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
Sauté the bacon and onion in a dry Dutch oven over medium-low heat to render the fat from the bacon, and until the onion begins to take on a little color.
Add the vegetables and barely cover with water (or light stock). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked as you like them. I prefer a little bite to them, but traditionally they are soft. As the soup cooks check the balance of heat and sourness to your taste. You can add a little lemon juice if you desire. Add the parsley towards the end.
Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread, with yoghurt (or sour cream) and red pepper flakes on the side for guests to add as they wish.