Italian Bread and Cabbage Soup with Sage Butter

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It's March!  I admit, I've got my sights set on my still non-existent snow-covered garden and soon-to-be in-season spring veggies. But let's face it: it's still winter.  And instead of being a cold hater, I've gone on a mission to embrace the last of seasonal winter greens. 

It's not difficult with the help of Jamie Oliver, host of the new Food Network show Jamie at Home, who cooks up really simple, delicious recipes while confusing US viewers with metric measurements and words like "pukka."  His recent show on winter vegetables inspired me to make Italian bread and cabbage soup with sage butter.  It was seriously one of best things I've made this winter, and we have enough left over to serve an army.  I hope it freezes well! 

Here's the recipe, which you can also find [sans my comments and photos] over at the Food Network website:

This scrumptious, thick bread soup is about playing up the cabbage family - the king of winter veg. It's layered like lasagna, with grilled bread and cabbage in stock, and as it cooks it plumps up a bit like bread-and-butter pudding. Fontina cheese is available in good supermarkets or cheese shops [I found ours at Whole Foods on River Street in Cambridge], but you can substitute good-quality Cheddar or Gruyere.

bread soup ingredients.jpg
  • 3 quarts good-quality chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 Savoy cabbage, stalks removed, outer leaves separated, washed and roughly chopped
  • 2 big handfuls cavolo nero and/or kale, stalks removed, leaves washed and roughly chopped [Cavolo nero??  I used a bunch of red kale and the top greens from three yellow beets.]
  • About 16 slices stale country-style or sourdough bread [I used a large Francese loaf from Iggy's.]
  • 1 clove garlic, unpeeled, cut in 1/2
  • Olive oil [I completely forgot to use the oil, but with all the bacon fat and cheese, the dish really didn't need it.]
  • 12 to 14 slices pancetta or bacon [I used thick cut bacon, and I'd cut this in half next time or get something thinner.]
  • 1 (4-ounce) can anchovy fillets, in oil [Don't be scared of our little fishy friends!]
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked
  • 7 ounces fontina cheese, grated
  • 5 ounces freshly grated Parmesan, plus a little for serving
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Couple large knobs butter [A single pat would have been sufficient.]
  • Small bunch fresh sage, leaves picked

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan and add the cabbage, cavolo nero and/or kale. Cook for a few minutes until softened (you may have to do this in 2 batches). Remove the cabbage to a large bowl, leaving the stock in the pan.

bread soup - step 1.jpgToast all but 5 of the bread slices on a hot griddle pan or in a toaster, then rub them on 1 side with the garlic halves, and set aside. [I forgot this part and toasted it all -- it turned out fine.]

Next, heat a large 4-inch-deep ovenproof casserole-type pan on the stove top, pour in a couple of glugs of olive oil and add your pancetta and anchovies. When the pancetta is golden brown and sizzling, add the rosemary and cooked cabbage and toss to coat the greens in all the lovely flavors. Put the mixture and all the juices back into the large bowl.

bread soup - step 2.jpgPlace 4 of the toasted slices in the casserole-type pan, in 1 layer. Spread over 1/3 of the cabbage leaves, sprinkle over a 1/4 of the grated fontina and Parmesan and add a drizzle of olive oil.

bread soup - step 4.jpgRepeat this twice, but don't stress if your pan's only big enough to take two layers - that's fine.

bread soup - step 5.jpgJust pour in all the juices remaining in the bowl and end with a layer of untoasted bread on top. [I ended with a layer of the cabbage and it worked out fine.]  Push down on the layers with your hands.

Pour the stock gently over the top until it just comes up to the top layer. Push down again and sprinkle over the remaining fontina and Parmesan. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper and drizzle over some good-quality olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven for around 30 minutes, or until crispy and golden on top.

bread soup - done.jpgWhen the soup is ready, divide it between your bowls. Melt the butter in a frying pan and quickly fry the sage leaves until they're just crisp and the butter is lightly golden (not burned!). Spoon a bit of the flavored butter and sage leaves over the soup and add another grating of Parmesan. Such a great combo! [Agreed!]

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