Winter Kitchen | Zuppa di Cavoli

Every winter kitchen needs a good, sturdy soup.  This zuppa, made with lacinato kale, pancetta and fennel, is amazingly versatile.  The leftovers even result in perfect little hors d’oeuvres.  Who knew?

While this recipe contains the classic French base (i.e., carrot, onion, celery), the ingredients are cooked slightly differently than most other soups I make resulting in a surprisingly different flavor.  Regional and cultural differences in cooking techniques really get me going.  This is because I am a food nerd, but again, you all know this.  You don’t have to be, though, to enjoy this truly delicious Italian soup.

Zuppa di Cavoli, Four Ways, Inspired by Flavors of Tuscany

1 c dried canneloni beans (you could use canned, but I wouldn’t recommend it)

Small bunch of thyme

3 oz pancetta chopped (you could substitute bacon)

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 carrot, scrubbed and chopped

1 rib of celery chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small bulb of fennel, trimmed of  stalks and root end, thinly sliced

2 small potatoes, peeled and cubed

Small bunch of lacinato kale, ribs removed and very thinly sliced in ribbons

Rind of Parmesan cheese (I keep these in the freezer for just such occasions, but this is entirely optional)

1/2  to 1 c cornmeal

Olive oil, salt, pepper

In a sauce pot, add the rinsed dried beans and cover with two inches of water, drizzle in a bit of olive oil and season with salt, pepper and a few sprigs of thyme.  Turn heat to high, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until beans are tender, but not falling apart.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, garlic and fennel and pulse until finely minced.  You may need to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your processor.  In a large stock pot, drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat over medium low heat.  Add in the minced pancetta and vegetables and cook until vegetables are soft, but not brown,  about 10 to 12 minutes.   Season with salt and pepper.  PK tip – Finely chopping and cooking the pancetta and vegetables over low heat together is what gives this soup it’s flavor.  Don’t add a step and brown the pancetta first.  Cook it slowly together.  Pour in the cooked beans as well as their cooking liquor along with four cups of boiling water.  Add the kale, potatoes and the Parmesan rind, if using.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Adjust seasoning.

Version 1: It is at this point you could feel free to stop.  You have made incredibly delicious soup.

Version 2: Add in some small meatballs or tiny balls of cooked Italian sausage.  You’ll have a modified version of Italian Wedding Soup.

Version 3: To the soup without meatballs, whisk in 1/2 cup of cornmeal that was mixed with 1 1/2 cups of water.  Cook for a further 40 minutes, adding water if necessary to maintain a soup (not oatmeal) consistency.  This is version I made.

Version 4:  The leftovers that contain a larger amount of cornmeal and have been refrigerated, can be sliced and/or pressed with small cookie cutters, then fried in generous amounts of olive oil.  Cocktail apps!  Perhaps served with one of these.

Playlist included A Certain Smile, by Johnny Mathis.


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