Cold wintery nights cry out for warm crackling fires, steaming cups of mulled wine and hearty, belly warming comfort food. That’s exactly what’s on the itinerary when the Co-pilot and I head up to Wollombi, a sleepy little town south of the Hunter Valley for a few days of sorely needed relaxation.
We’re staying at a family friend’s place, an isolated homestead in the middle of the bush, where the staple foibles of our modern life – TV, internet, phone reception and even electricity are scarce and replaced by the peeping song of bellbirds with the odd sighting of a lyrebird thrown in for good measure. The activities have been meticulously researched – I plan to get very well acquainted with my pillow, a book and channel my inner sloth. As for many, cooking gives us both so much pleasure and satisfaction, we plan to cook a few of our favourite winter recipes. This Jamie Oliver recipe for bread and cabbage soup is one high on that list of recipes and one we’ve already supped on a few times this winter. The title may not sound inspiring or initiate a Pavlovian response, but it should! Like many recipes with peasant origins, it makes great use of the in-season vegetables like cabbage, leftovers and basic ingredients that should be readily available in an Italian larder and transform them into incredible flavours and textures in this soup. The bread becomes meltingly soft with chewy cheese toasted on top; the pancetta and cheese give it a monumental savoury kick; and there’s rosemary and sage giving it a herby punch. Trust me, once you try this recipe, it’ll be a keeper!
Jamie Oliver’s Italian bread and cabbage soup
- 3L homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 savoy cabbage, stalks removed, leaves separated, washed, and roughly chopped (Chinese cabbage is a good substitute)
- 2 large handfuls of cavolo nero (kale), stalks removed, leaves washed and roughly chopped
- 16 slices stale country-style or sourdough bread
- 1 clove garlic, unpeeled and halved
- Olive oil 12 to 14 slices pancetta or bacon, coarsely chopped
- 1x 100g can anchovy fillets in oil
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves only
- 200g fontina cheese, grated (Gruyere, Provolone, Gouda or even Taleggio are good substitutes)
- 150g freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small bunch fresh sage, leaves only
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place stock in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add cabbage and kale and cook until softened. Transfer cabbage to a large bowl and set stock aside.
- Toast 12 slices bread and rub one side of each slice with garlic and set aside. Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and anchovy fillets; cook until pancetta is golden brown and sizzling. Add rosemary and cooked cabbage mixture; toss to coat. Transfer to a large bowl.
- Place 4 slices of toast in an even layer in Dutch oven. Top with one-third of the cabbage mixture. Top with one-quarter of fontina and Parmesan cheese. Repeat process two times, until all the toasted bread and cabbage mixture is used. Top with remaining 4 slices untoasted bread, pushing down with your hands.
- Gently pour stock into Dutch-oven until it just comes to the top layer of bread. Top with remaining cheese. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
- Transfer Dutch oven to oven and bake until top is golden and crisp. Just before serving, heat butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add sage leaves and cook until crisp and butter is golden. Serve soup immediately drizzled with sage butter and topped with sage leaves and Parmesan, if desired.
We always use a good loaf of sourdough for this recipe or use a bread with a bit of integrity (not processed white bread) so it doesn’t melt away once cooked.
You can always use store bought stock, especially when pressed for time, but you can’t beat the flavour injection you get with a good home made stock. We find a homemade vegetable stock provides plenty of flavour and well worth the minor additional effort.
Cabbage is at its best during winter and cavolo nero, also known as Tuscan kale or Tuscan cabbage, becomes plentiful. Once, you could only find cavolo nero in Italian neighbourhoods but now you’ll find this vegetable pretty readily available in good green grocers. The original recipe calls for savoy cabbage but we normally substitute this for Chinese cabbage as we find it adds more sweetness to the soup and to save time, we don’t bother with the additional step of cooking the cabbage in the stock, we just add it directly to the pancetta and sweat down in the pan.
Once the ingredients are ready, simple assemble like lasagne layers – first the bread followed by pancetta and cabbage, then the cheeses. Repeat the process until all the ingredients are used up (just ensure you reserve enough cheese to cover the top) then pour in the stock.
Top with the remaining cheese, drizzle liberally with olive oil and season with pepper, then transfer to the oven to bake.
Once it is golden brown (or when you can no longer wait) – the soup’s ready!
Serve immediately, in generous portions, drizzled with sage butter.
This soup is so tasty, it deserves a close-up vanity shot: Italian bread and cabbage soup in all it’s glory. There’s certainly something to be said for the invention of scratch-n-sniff screens..
Hungry yet? We’ve also tried making this soup for a vegetarian friend by omitting the pancetta and anchovies and substituting in leeks, mushrooms and amplifying the garlic content. The flavour profile changes, but it still has a decent kick of flavour. It’s a recipe that reliably delivers comfort and warm winter bellies for all.