October 22nd, 2009


Hearty Cavolo Nero, Borlotti Bean and Smoked Bacon Soup

The combination of cabbage, bacon and beans is very familiar to me. I actually hated it when I was younger working in a top London restaurant. The cabbage hearts along with the rind and fat from the pancetta trimmings, that were not used in the Michelin star meals, always ended up along with the previous days haricot beans on the staff food shelf. The head chef did not believe in buying food for staff meals even though we had sometimes up to 30 mouths to feed twice a day. There is only so much stale bread and tomato trimmings that one could stomach. We used to take turns to cook lunch or dinner and when it was the  head chefs turn, he cooked a cabbage, bacon and bean soup. Must say the smell used to lure me in and secretly I both loved it and hated it at the same time. Not because of the taste, no, I just could not forgive him for being so tight with the purse strings, I though he was cruel.

He would start his staff lunch potion early in the morning by cooking it slowly and during the day he would add all the trimmings of the day’s mis-en-place. It ended up seriously delicious, packed with goodness and flavour. He even allowed a bit of grated cheese to make cheesy croutons. At that time as a hard working youngster, I could not get my head around the fact that whilst working with the most expensive ingredients such as white truffles, gold caviar, wild sea bass and turbot, the staff ate so poorly, like peasants, I just simply could not understand it.

It took several years of seriously growing up to appreciate those flavours and what they meant to me. It  meant reward, hardship but satisfaction and that is exactly what this dish means to me today when I serve it up for our dinner. Pure hearty satisfaction!

It’s not often that we serve up peasants meals  in this modern high flying twenty first century that we find ourselves living in now. No it’s more about weekday meals made from duck breast, fillet of beef and free range chickens, how disillusioned are we? I think we have lost appreciation for good hearty meals cooked with love and understanding, recipes like this one. Throw in perhaps a couple of ingredients from our own gardens, and then, only then,will I think we are heading back in the right direction of appreciating good food cooked well.

It breaks my heart when you see everyone trying to recreate restaurant meals at home to eat everyday. I think it’s wrong and we are making out as if good old fashioned home cooking is something of the past,but it isn’t and it’s got to come back and deserves a place at our table . Restaurant meals should be for those special occasions when we have worked hard to save the pennies  and can really appreciate its value.


The borlotti beans that I used came from my garden, the last few pods from my really successful crop. You can use tinned borlottis instead of fresh ones or if you  use dried ones I suggest you to hydrate and boil them before using them in this recipe. As I reported before I had no luck growing cavolo nero as the bugs got there before me. I was delighted when I received a suggestion from Johanna saying that I should dust my cavolo nero plants regularly with wood ashes as it will keep the bugs away. I  sighed with relief  that I can give  cavolo nero a second chance and a big thank you to Johanna!

The smoked bacon is perhaps one of the most essential ingredients in this recipe as the smoky flavour really adds to the flavour and the success of this dish relies heavily on it. I suggest you spend a bit more cash on this and find a really good quality smoked bacon or pancetta. I normally buy a block from my butcher which he specially orders in for me and then cuts it into smaller pieces so I can freeze it. A one kilo block normally lasts us about 6 months, now that’s not bad if you to divide the price by the quantity of meals you can get from it. Then finally you do not really have to follow the recipe step by step, add your own twist and turns, add the things you have in stock and use those unused trimmings. I think it’s even more important than buying special ingredients.

  • 150g smoked bacon cut into small lardons
  • 1clove of garlic crushed
  • 1 carrot, 5mm dice
  • 1 large white onion, 5mm diced
  • 150g leek, 5mm dice
  • 150g celery, 5mm dice
  • 250g butternut squash, 5mm dice
  • 240g borlotti beans
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 1.2 L vegetable or white chicken stock
  • 100g cavalo nero shredded
  • 50ml olive oil
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Prepare the bacon and vegetables: Cut the bacon into small lardons, I normally buy a chunky piece of bacon or pancetta, the smokey flavour is essential for the extra hearty taste. Wash the vegetables and cut the peeled carrot into roughly 5mm dice (you do not need to be precise with the measurements I'm only giving you an indication of the rough size required),  and do the same with the celery, onions, leek and butternut squash. Shred the cavalo nero and set aside.

If you used tinned borlotti beans then drain them ,alternatively if you used dried borlotti beans soak them over night in 3 times the weight in water and cook them until tender before adding them to the soup.

Heat a large saucepan with the half  the oil and saute the bacon until golden brown, remove the bacon from the pan and return the pan to the heat.

Saute the carrots, onions,crush garlic, celery and butternut squash until golden in the remaining oil with a bit of seasoning, not too much,as the bacon is salty.

Return the smoked bacon to the pan and deglaze with the white wine, cook until all the caramelised bits that got stuck to the pan have dissolved and the wine becomes glossy around the vegetables.

Add the stock and bring the soup to a gentle simmer, cook for about 15 minutes, add the drained cooked borlotti beans ( I used fresh borlotti beans and added them raw at this stage but if you use tinned or dried they must be cooked before they are added at this stage).

Bring the soup back to the simmer and simmer for 10 minutes, add the shredded cavalo nero and simmer for a further 6 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Serve this hearty broth with buttered chunky bread and lots of grated Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4/6

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5 Comments to “Hearty Cavolo Nero, Borlotti Bean and Smoked Bacon Soup”

  1. [...] Hearty Cavolo Nero, Borlotti Bean and Smoked monastic Soup Recipe … [...]

  2. This sounds delicious but I’m pushing for lighter Spring meals right now. I’m for a hearty flavoursome experience every day of the week. I just need to work out how I’m going to do that so I still only spend no more than an hour a day in the kitchen on our main meal. I’m starting to plan meals over the week more and it means I can start some stuff the day before in readiness for the final flourish the next day!

  3. Tall Blonde says:

    I’m going to make this this weekend – I’ve got squash, borlotti beans and cavalo nero all growing in my garden and ready to be harvested, so this will be wonderful. Thanks.

  4. Thermomixer says:

    Your former boss sounds a bit different from Freddy Giradet, who I read cracked open a bottle of French bubbles after service some nights. Your boss sounds a bit Dickensian, but I love using up bits and pieces for “what’s left in the fridge soup” (as someone aptly called it).

    Sounds like a clean, crisp variation on ribollita – yummy.

  5. Mark Butcher says:

    “Restaurant meals should be for those special occasions when we have worked hard to save the pennies and can really appreciate its value.”
    I couldnt agree with that more! although you wouldnt believe it if you saw me at home…. because i am a 32 year old catering student i feel like i have to prove something to my wife and kids every time i come home and cook dinner, to justify the poverty we are having to live in while i am a student! my food costs are going through the roof as i try to impress them with my new knowledge and skills!
    What I should in fact be doing is preparing excellent dishes like this, tasty peasant food on a day to day basis and then maybe for one meal, perhaps sunday dinner, push the boat out!
    This has been my first time on this site and I will be back again! You have legitimised what was in my heart, that simple flavoursome, hearty, family round the table dishes could be just as exciting as michelin star art…… thank you :)
    I look forward to cooking this tomorrow and coming back here time and time again!

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