Hearty Cavolo Nero, Borlotti Bean and Smoked Bacon Soup
Hearty Cavolo Nero, Borlotti Bean and Smoked Bacon Soup

Hearty Cavolo Nero, Borlotti Bean and Smoked Bacon Soup

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    Serves 6 as a starter or serves 4 as a main course
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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.

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. 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.

Ingredients & Method

  • 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
  • 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
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 1.2 L vegetable or white chicken stock
  • 240g borlotti beans (cooked and drained weight)
  • 100g cavalo nero shredded
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Heat a large saucepan with the oil over high heat and saute the bacon until golden brown, carrots, onions, crush garlic, celery and butternut squash with seasoning until it starts to colour, about 5 – 7 minutes

Deglaze with the white wine, cook until the wine becomes glossy around the vegetables.

Add the stock and bring the soup to a gentle simmer over medium heat, cook for about 15 minutes, add the drained cooked borlotti beans and simmer for further 5 minutes.

Add the shredded cavalo nero and simmer for a further 5 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

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

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