A Warming Winter Soup from the Stirred Kitchen

Cavolo Nero

Minestra D’Inverno (Winter Minestrone) with thanks to Alastair Little

A soup that is finished in the oven, and which is incredibly ribsticking, nourishing and delicious. The quantities given are large, so invite a lot of hungry friends, or save some for the next day. Italians show a penchant for eating their heartier winter soups as leftovers at room temperature. This may seem slightly unappetising, but believe me, one can acquire the taste. (Minestrone for breakfast?)

Ingredients: (Serves 10)

  • 250g dried broad beans, soaked overnight
  • 1 smoked gammon hock (knuckle)
  • 2 bay leaves, 1 sprig rosemary, 1 sprig thyme, tied into a bouquet garni
  • 2 carrots, peeled,
  • 2 celery sticks, strung
  • 2 onions, peeled
  • 1 large turnip
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled
  • 500g winter greens (if possible, cavolo nero), or outer leaves of Savoy cabbage
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 6 small dried chillies
  • Good olive oil
  • Parmesan, freshly grated
  • Top-quality, new-season olive oil

To cook the beans drain and rinse them, and put in a large pan with the ham hock and approximately twice their volume of water. Bring to the boil, drain and discard the water. Replace with fresh cold water in the same proportion and return to the boil. Turn the heat down low and skim thoroughly. Add the bouquet garni and simmer until tender, between 1 and 2 hours, depending on the time the beans have been lurking on a shelf (the older the drier, the longer to cook). Allow to cool in their liquor. Keep the bouquet garni. Refrigerate if necessary. This part is the protein of the dish, the solid heart, now for the flavours.

To cook the soup, preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2. Cut the carrots, celery, onions, turnip and potatoes into 5 mm dice. Prepare the greens by cutting out the stalks then rolling up the leaves into a cylinder (or cigar), then slicing finely across. Pulverise the garlic and chillies in a spice blender or in a mortar and pestle.

Put the diced vegetables, apart from the potatoes, in an ovenproof casserole with 3 tbsp olive oil. Sweat over a low heat for 10 minutes, then add the garlic and chilli mix and the potato dice. Toss, then add the cooking liquor from the beans and ham plus the bouquet garni, as well as the beans. Shred the cooked ham and add along with the ham bones. Add enough water to cover the solids and stir. Continue simmering while you add all these ingredients.

Cover the casserole and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. After this time check the soup is not completely solid. Add a little water if necessary, and the shredded greens. Stir, re-cover and return to the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave in a safe place, lid on, to cool down (it will be volcanically hot).

Serve directly from the casserole, opening it at the table. Offer grated Parmesan and new-season olive oil.

Copyright Alastair Little.

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