Zuppa di Cavolo Nero i Borlotti

Zuppa di Cavolo Nero i Borlotti

Here is a hearty northern Italian soup to tame winter’s last hurrah!

A rendition of every Nonna’s secret recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation. Nothing fancy here. Just a frugal, hearty, healthy, and infinitely flavorful soup you will want to be cooking again and again.

Don’t let Cavolo Nero and Borlotti persuade you give this recipe a pass. Cavolo Nero is a leafy dark green Italian cabbage that is increasingly available in urban markets. If not available a leafy dark green kale will be a fine substitute. Borlotti, cranberry beans, are readily available at specialty and health food shops.

As the soup is slowly simmering on the stove, the aroma coming to life and wafting out the kitchen, beckoning amici e familiari to gather around the table, it affirms that the simplest of pleasures are always the most memorable.

Zuppa di Cavolo Nero e Borlotti serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil + more for drizzling when serving
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 celery rib, finely diced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 yellow potato, peeled and diced
  • 3-4 cups chopped cavolo nero(or leafy kale)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoon Italian tomato paste
  • 9 cups hot stock or water
  • 1 ½ cups canned Italian borlotti beans, drained

Heat a large cast iron dutch oven or heavy bottomed stock pot over medium heat. When hot add 3 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is hot add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Stir with a wooden spoon and cook until the vegetables are soft and lightly browned, about 20 minutes, lower the heat if browning too quickly.

Add the potatoes and chopped cavolo nero (or leafy kale) and fold into the browned vegetables. Add the salt and pepper and add a ladle of hot stock (or water) and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to deglaze and release any bits and pieces sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook for several minutes until the cavolo nero is wilted and most of the stock has been absorbed.

Push the vegetables towards the side of the pan to create a well in the center. Add the tomato paste to the well and press it against the bottom of the pan to darken and caramelize the tomato paste; about 2 minutes.

Promptly add the hot stock (or water) and raise the heat to bring the soup back to a boil. Then adjust the heat so the soup is gently simmering and partially cover for 10 minutes.

Add the borlotti and raise the heat until the soup is just simmering again. Cook for another 40 to 50 minutes. The soup should reduce by about a quarter and be slightly thicker.

Taste the soup and add additional salt and pepper to taste.

The soup is now ready to serve. If you plan to use the soup later cool to room temperature and refrigerate for later use.

For the crostoni:

  • 4 or 6  3/8 inch/1cm thick slices hearty country style crusty bread
  • extra virgin olive oil for brushing
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled
  • flaked sea salt (Maldon salt)
  • freshly ground black pepper

While the soup is simmering, preheat the oven to 425F/220c. Brush both sides of the bread pieces with the olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 6 minutes. Turn the bread over and toast another 6 minutes. Or until lightly browned

Remove from the oven and rub the top side of the toasted bread with the garlic. Season lightly with flaked sea salt and freshly ground pepper and set aside.


Place shallow soup plates in the oven to a warm them. Bring the soup to a bubbling simmer.

Place toasted crostoni in the bottom of each bowl and ladle the hot soup over the crostoni and serve promptly.

Serve with extra virgin olive oil at the table for drizzling.

Suggested: Pair the soup with a salad of assorted crisp lettuces, radicchio, sliced radishes, and celery leaves tossed with a mustard sage vinaigrette and topped with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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