With a thick broth, plump beans, and pleasingly bitter kale, this Tuscan classic is one of my favorite soups. And it’s probably one of the most nutritious dishes that I make, full of healthy ingredients like beans and kale, light on fat, heavy on fiber. Although I’ve been making Italian vegetable soups of various types for a long time, I ran across this particular preparation in Paula Wolfert’s excellent Mediterranean Grains and Greens.
The featured vegetable is Lacinato kale (a.k.a. dinosaur kale), which might be expanding its range from farmers markets to grocery stores all over, as it’s a pretty hot vegetable right now – I hear of kale salads making the menu of some of the hottest restaurants in S.F. and L.A. If you can’t find it, Wolfert recommends using one-half chard leaves and one-half savoy cabbage. The soup would be different, to be sure, but I expect that it would still be quite tasty.
A first glance at the recipe looks like a fairly standard vegetable soup. But one line – the pinch of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg – makes this soup distinctive. The warm spices bring some exotic flavors and high notes to an otherwise earthy soup.
Wolfert calls this “Tuscan Bread and Kale Soup,” with the bread part referring to the serving method, in which a slice of garlic-rubbed toasted or grilled country bread is placed in the bottom of the bowl before the soup is ladled on top. The broth breaks down the bread, further enriching the soup.
Recipe: Kale and Bean Soup
Adapted from Mediterranean Grains and Greens by Paula Wolfert
1 T. olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced fine
1 cup dried cannellini or borlotti beans
3 cups water
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1/2 T. salt
The Soup Base
1/4 oz. dried porcini mushroom (optional)
1/2 c. tomato puree (about 125 g)
1/3 pinch each: ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, ground cloves
1/4 c. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 bunch Lacinato kale, stems removed, leaves cut into bite-size pieces
3 medium carrots, sliced 1/4" thick
4 medium potatoes, in 3/8" cubes
A few cups of water or stock
2 t. salt, or to taste
To serve (optional)
Slices of dense bread, grilled or toasted, then rubbed with a garlic clove
Grated Parmesan cheese
(unit conversion page)
Prepare the beans:
Soak the beans if you like, and drain the water before cooking. Sauté the minced onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Pour in the beans, water, rosemary sprig and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, let boil for one minute, then reduce heat so beans are at a very gentle simmer (or put them in a slow cooker or solar oven). Cook, partially covered. When beans are tender, add the salt. Remove the bay leaf and rosemary branch. Put half of the cooked beans into a bowl, and puree the remaining beans to give the broth extra body. (Or, if you are skilled with an immersion blender, just use that to puree about half of the cooked beans.)
Prepare the soup base:
Put the dried mushrooms in about 1 cup of hot water, and let them rehydrate for 10 minutes or so. Fish out the mushroom pieces with a fork or slotted spoon, then give them a quick rinse to dislodge any grit that remains. Pour the soaking liquid through a coffee filter. Add the liquid to the tomato puree. Chop the rehydrated mushrooms into small pieces (~1/8”) and add to the tomato puree. Add the spices to the tomato puree.
In a large sauce pan or Dutch oven, heat 1/4 c. olive oil over medium heat. Cook the onions until soft, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so, being careful not to burn it. Add the kale and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the carrots and potatoes, stir a few times, and then pour in some water to slow down the cooking. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, until the potatoes and carrots are just about tender.
Add the tomato-mushroom-spice mixture and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the beans, pureed beans, and cooking liquid. Add the salt. Adjust the thickness of the soup with more water or stock as needed. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes, covered (or uncovered, if you think the soup is too thin).
To serve with bread, place a piece of bread in a bowl and ladle the soup on top. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.
Image Credit: Photo of Kale from Noelle's Flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.
Random link from the archive: A Mound of Soup — Sopa Seca