Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kale Soup, Winter 2011

I once frequented a hairdresser in a trendy strip. He told me that, despite specialising in dreadlocks and mohawks and very short haircuts for girls, a tiny older woman came in once a month to have a blue rinse. That particular shopfront had been a hair salon for more than forty years, and she saw no reason to go somewhere else just because the owners had changed and the ethos shifted. So my hairdresser kept a supply of blue rinse chemicals on hand for her, and hoped and prayed that nobody else ever found out that he did them.

Being someone who is fairly oblivious to fashion, I found it rather touching. I loved the idea of my hairdresser, a muscular skinhead, carefully tinting a tight white perm to the perfect shade of blue. After all, I am probably going the same way as his customer, insisting that my current hairdresser keep my hair in a certain edgy crop years about a decade after it has lost its edge. Apparently I am now supposed to have it thick and top heavy, but having done that in my early twenties, I'm comfortably past that. In fact, I keep finding myself wanting to compliment young waiters and bartenders on their pinching high-waisted acid wash jeans and rolled brim hats; after all, I wore all that that when I was a teenager. Their clothes makes me happy in a sentimental sort of way.

As much as I am no longer au fait with current fashions, or at least choose to ignore them, I do have trends when it comes to cooking. The silhouette of my trousers may be fairly constant, and my hair has barely changed since 2003, but I have changed my preferences for soup. Last year I enjoyed my version of the ribollita served by our landlady in Tuscany many years ago, a sort of wet compost. But this year my tastes have changed. I no longer want a blended soup thickened with bread; instead, I yearn for kale soup with firm vegetables, separate and distinct. I've also become a purist, wanting only cavolo nero, or Tuscan black kale. When cooked, black kale has a rich sweet flavour that I love.

So this is what I'm eating in the winter of 2011. It draws from Skye Gyngell's recipe in her lovely book, My Favourite Ingredients, but as usual I make my own departures.

Kale Soup, Winter 2011

-200g dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight
- 3 small brown onions, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, flattened with the side of a knife and roughly chopped
- 2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 bulb celeriac
- 4 smallish carrots
- 1 can tomatoes
- a big bunch of cavolo nero (that long skinny black kale)
- 150g stellini (tiny star shaped pasta; I used wholemeal spelt stellini, but use whatever makes you happy)
- salt, pepper
- parmesan (totally optional)

Drain the soaked beans in a colander. Place them into a big saucepan and cover them well with cold water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 1 to 1½ hours, or until they are soft but not falling apart. Salt, and set aside.

Warm a good slosh of olive oil in a soup pot. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and the celeriac, carrots and potatoes. Cook until the vegetables turn glossy, then add the tomatoes. Mix well, turn the heat right down, clap the lid on and leave to cook for twenty minutes.

Remove the thick stems of the kale and chop the leaves coarsely. When the other vegetables are done, add the kale, the cannellini beans and about a litre of water – just enough to cover. Replace the lid, and cook gently for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the vegetables are really soft.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to the boil (I used the bean pot to save on washing up). Salt, throw in the stellini and cook until barely done, perhaps a minute less than the instructions say. Drain and toss the stellini with a drizzle of olive oil and set aside.

When the soup veggies are soft and you are ready to eat, throw the stellini into the soup, warm them, and serve. A bit of parmesan grated over the top is nice, as is an extra drizzle of bright green olive oil and some freshly ground pepper.

(Local: kale, potatoes, onions, celeriac, carrots. Victorian: salt. From infuriatingly many miles away: parmesan, pepper, dried white beans, canned tomatoes (I never did get round to canning tomatoes last summer dammit, and could someone please tell me why is it so hard to get organically grown dried white beans and canned tomatoes from Victoria?)

My Favourite Ingredients


  1. Two kale plants survived the white cabbage moths and I'm nearly ready to try some. I can't believe I've never ever even tried kale!
    I haven't changed my hairdo in 20 years.

  2. We grew kale last year, and the caterpillars, when squished, smelled like boiled cabbage. Blech. Then I read a great idea: make a simple frame and cover it with mosquito netting, and grow the plants under that. I used an old netting curtain, and it's been enough to keep out the cabbage moths.