Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kale Soup, 2012


Every year about this time, when the winter sky is grey and my hands are too cold to type, I feel like things should be quiet in the garden. I’ve read too many English gardening books which talk about winter as a time of planning and rest. Yet I live in a temperate climate, and outside my kitchen window kale and chard are tall and strong. Large self-sown borage plants are dotted here and there; their hairy leaves have the slight taste of cucumber. Parsley, rocket, sorrel, cress, salad burnet, lettuces, even microgreens – everything is growing, growing, growing, and I am hungry, and my thoughts turn, as always, to soup.

I eat soup every day, for lunch and often dinner too. It was not always thus. Good soup requires maturity, patience, kindness, generosity and self-control, virtues I lacked in my twenties. Then, I cooked little stir fries, quick and fast, and gobbled them up in minutes; or grabbed a sandwich on the run. But I am older now, and don’t need the immediate fix. I am able to cook extra, plan for tomorrow, let things simmer for an hour or two, and make enough for friends.

I look for a steaming green stew, thick with kale and other good things, and reminiscent of the goodness of compost; and pile it in a matte bowl which I nestle in my hands in momentary pause as I give thanks for warmth and nourishment.

Every year my kale soup takes a slightly different turn. Here is this year’s incarnation. Black kale forms the backbone, with its strong dark flavours. It’s leavened by chard and borage, and the bite of celery leaves, just the thing to chase away the winter blues. The trick is to cook everything slowly so that the soup develops great depth of flavour, brightened at the end with a few greens more lightly cooked and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. A bowlful is a complete meal for lunch or dinner. I know the quantities seem enormous, but this soup went quickly at our house. Six of us ate it for dinner one night; and three finished it off at lunch the next day – just the thing for sharing.

Kale Soup, 2012

- 4 tbs olive oil
- 3 red onions
- 5 carrots
- 1 entire head of celery, including the leaves
- 2 heads garlic, cloves peeled
- 1 can crushed tomatoes
- 2 kg silver beet (aka Swiss chard. You can substitute up to 1 kg with rainbow chard and/or beet leaves, but no more because the silver beet stalks form part of the soup. Rainbow chard stalks and beet stalks are too thin and stringy.)
- 1½ kg cavolo nero (black kale)
- 3 cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (or 250g dried cannellini beans, soaked and cooked)
- 1 litre chicken stock or water
- ½ kg borage (or use 2 kg cavolo nero)
- a bunch of parsley
- a small bunch of thyme
- salt, pepper
- parmesan, to serve
- extra virgin olive oil, to serve

Peel and chop the onions. Warm the olive oil in a large pot, and add the onions. While they are cooking, peel and chop the carrots roughly; and chop the celery – every bit, including the leaves. Add them to the soup pot, and cook over low heat, stirring from time to time, until they are beginning to brown. This will take up to half an hour.

Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes; then add the tomatoes, and cook until the liquid has reduced down.

Remove the stalks of the silver beet and chop them. Add them to the soup. Shred the leaves of the silver beet and cavolo nero. Throw all the cavolo nero and two thirds of the silver beet into the pot. You may have to do this in batches, mixing and stirring as the leaves collapse.

Add the cannellini beans and the stock or water. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer and leave to cook for half an hour, stirring from time to time to ensure it doesn’t stick.

Shred the borage leaves. Chop the parsley and thyme. Throw them in along with the reserved silver beet, and cook for a few minutes or until the borage has lost its hairiness. You want some of the leaves to retain their colour and crunch.

Check for seasoning. Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan. Pass the pepper mill.

A note on the greens: kale, especially black kale, should form the backbone of the soup because it holds its shape well; you don’t want the soup to be an unidentifiable sludge of miscellaneous greens. However, there is some flexibility in the other greens. I use chard and borage because I grow great quantities in my garden, and chard also holds its shape well; but if you don’t mind a more collapsed soup you might substitute in perhaps half a kilo of wilder greens for some of the chard or borage: nettles, perhaps, or amaranth, fat hen or mallow.

Adapted from a recipe in The River Cafe Cookbook, which I cannot praise highly enough.

(Backyard: cavolo nero, silver beet, rainbow chard, borage, parsley, thyme. Localish: onions, celery, garlic, olive oil, salt. Can’t remember: carrots. Way away: cannellini beans, canned tomatoes unless you canned your own, parmesan.)

The River Cafe Cookbook

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