In addition to operating our little restaurant, we also raise vegetables for a select group of customers. Inevitably, some vegetables are harder to sell than others because many people are unfamiliar with them or they seem difficult to cook.
I think of these as “problem vegetables”, vegetables for which people need a little hand-holding, a little extra encouragement and guidance to cook. Savoy cabbage is one of these vegetables. It’s popular in Italy, especially the North, but not so well known in the US. For many Americans of a certain generation, the word cabbage summons thoughts or memories of smelly, overcooked, mushy disgustingness.
Fortunately, cabbage need not be strong-smelling mush. This soup is a great introduction to savoy cabbage because the proportion of cabbage to other ingredients is moderate, and it only needs about 30 minutes from start to finish. Rather than being musty, this soup shows savoy cabbage in a fresher, more attractive guise.
Savoy cabbage soup with bacon, tomatoes, and cannellini beans (serves 4)
Begin by browning something meaty and savory, like bacon, pancetta, sausage, or smoked ham. I like to use something smoky. Use 1/2 to 1 cup of it and brown in a little olive oil.
Add about a cup of onions or leeks, sliced thin. Reduce the heat and cook until the onion is soft and taking on some light color, 5 minutes or so.
If the meat has rendered too much fat, pour off most of it and add a little more olive oil or maybe a little butter, then add shredded Savoy cabbage, about a 1/4 or 1/2 head depending on size, or more if you want a higher proportion of cabbage in the soup.
Season with a generous three-finger pinch of salt, stir everything to combine and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, adding a little water, wine, or beer if you like. Cover and wilt the cabbage until it is soft and significantly reduced in bulk, about 10 minutes.
Remove the lid and add a cup or so high quality canned tomatoes and simmer gently for 5 minutes before adding enough broth to make a nice soup, maybe 2 cups or so. Add a can of high-quality canned cannellini beans (Goya is my favorite) and bring to a gentle simmer.
Allow the flavors to blend for 10 minutes or so and finish with a generous bit of chopped parsley and some freshly ground black pepper. Check and correct for salt (This is THE most important step). Serve at once or reheat later in the day.