Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Hearty cabbage and bacon soup

A head of Savoy cabbage, or a any combination of cabbage leaves e.g. white, pointed, cavalo nero, January King
300g pancetta or unsmoked bacon, in rough chunks
Half an onion, sliced
A few sprigs of thyme
A good pinch of dried chilli flakes
Plenty of cold chicken or vegetable stock
A melting cheese you like to eat, so far gruyere and parmesan, taleggio, cheddar and emmenthal have all been successful additions
Half a loaf of white bread, ideally with a good crust and chewy grain, sourdough is great
A few fat garlic cloves
Salt and pepper

A large deep ovenproof pot is perfect for this. Render the bacon over a low heat until the fat runs out and the meat begins to brown and crisp. Add the onions with a pinch of salt and sweat until soft, golden and beginning to caramalise.

Add the thyme and chilli and season well. Go easy on the salt, especially if your bacon is smoked.

Chop the cabbage leaves roughly into large chunks and shreds, discarding any tough cores. Rinse the leaves in a strainer under running water, add them to the onions and bacon and turn the heat up to high. Cook, stirring constantly, until the cabbage wilts and starts browning around the edges, about 10 minutes.

Add the stock, cover, bring to the boil then simmer gently for half an hour.

While the cabbage is cooking, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Toast thick slices of bread and while they are hot rub both sides with the cut surface of a clove of garlic. Salt and pepper the toast too. Grate the cheese coarsely, or otherwise slice or break it up as best you can.

When the oven is hot and the cabbage is soft taste the soup, adjust the chilli to as hot as you'd like and season and/or reduce the broth if it tastes bland or weak. Once it's to your liking, top the soup with overlapping layers of toast, and then cover the toast completely with cheese. Season again and bake uncovered until the cheese is bubbling and brown and the kitchen smells wonderful.

Serve the whole pot at the table with a big ladle and shallow soup bowls, so everyone gets a good mound of cabbage and bacon, lots of spicy broth and a cheesy, garlic bready topping.

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