A really very good cabbage soup

The leaves are definitely turning and the sun is noticeably lower in the sky: this is autumn.  And so, not even the mild battering I received from the wind yesterday could stop me from gathering together the ingredients for a big, chunky soup.  The curly kale is just beginning to fill up the shelves, so ribollita was an obvious choice.

I’ve wanted to make ribollita for quite a while.  Every cookbook I open, I see a recipe for the soup.  Food From Plenty, the Acorn House Cookbook, they’ve all got one.  Not to mention the Hugh and Nigel recipes in the guardian over the past couple of months.  So I has to make it, simply because I couldn’t quite understand what there was to love so much about a cabbage soup.  I mean, I love cabbage in a soup, but, there’s something in me that always wants to add a bit of pig.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s bacon, sausage, chorizo or ham hock, more often than not, when I ’m using cabbage, I crave a bit of pork.  But, living with a vegetarian, I don’t think things would go well if I slipped a little pancetta into my sofrito, so I don’t.  But I just wanted to say, if I could, even with this big and delicious ribollita, I would.

Another reason I decided on ribollita is because I had a bread baking date with a girl who lives in my block, and although most recipes call for stale bread, or ciabatta, I didn’t think we could really go wrong with bread fresh from the oven, and it was really very good.

So, with all my ingredients and the garden in shadow unthinkably early, I set about soup making.  I understand theat ribollita literally means ‘reboiled’ but I rarely have the foresight to make something for the next day, so I just made as much as I could fit in my pot, and cooked it very, very, very slowely. We’ll reboil the leftovers today, so that’s when we’ll eat proper ribollita, but for now, well, it’s a very delicious cabbage soup, I guess.

For four
Two leeks, chopped
Four carrots, chopped
Three sticks of celery, chopped
Three cloves of garlic, finely chopped
One tin of chopped tomatoes
One tin of cannellini beans
500ml vegetable stock
400g kale
Parsley leaves and stalks, separate, but finely chopped

In a big pan, over a low heat, warm some olive oil and cook the leeks, carrots and celery very gently for about 20 minutes.  Turn the heat up slightly until there’s some very, very gentle caramalisation and cook for another 15-20 minutes.
Add the garlic and chopped parsley stalks and let them all cook for about ten minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes, vegetable stock, kale and beans and cook for another 20 minutes.
Place a slice of bread, toasted or not (depending on desired sogginess) in the bottom of a bowl and ladle some soup on top.
Serve with parsley and a glug of olive oil.


What we ate last night

I haven’t been doing all that much cooking lately.  It’s been a busy few weeks, and there have been a few changes going on.  In reaction to all this business, I’ve been surviving on a diet made entirely of cheese, sushi and Yorkshire tea.  Not at the same time, but usually at hourly intervals.  So when I invited a few friends round for dinner, I realised I had no idea what to cook.  I couldn’t just give them cheese; no matter how much I wanted to eat the cheddar that I knew was in the fridge.  So I thought I’d ease my self back into cooking with my favourite Nigel Slater recipe.  But the thing about using a recipe you know off by heart is that you always end up experimenting.

Honestly, I don’t know how many times I’ve been shouting at the TV when someone on masterchef says they haven’t practiced their dish.  I mean, come on, it’s masterchef.  Masterchef.  Why on earth would you experiment on masterchef?  Now I’m not saying that the friends I had round for dinner were John or Greg, but still, as I meandered through the shops, picking up what looked good, I did worry that if it wasn’t delicious, I would be giving my guests cheese.

So at home, faced with my new knife, which, incidentally, is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever owned, my new casserole pot, which is also big and very beautiful, I started cooking.

There were no disasters.  The stew was, well, a stew.  There’s not really so much that can go wrong.  Once I got into the routine of stew making, which, looking back at the past recipes I have posted here, stew making is something I am very well practiced in.  But the cake was what I was most nervous about.  Because you can never really tell how a cake is going to turn out until it’s done, and then there’s nothing you can do to rectify any mistakes.  And with a gluten free beetroot and chocolate cake there are a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong.  I was nervous that it was going to be too wet, with the beetroot and the ground almonds all together, but it was the best cake I’ve ever made.  I keep looking at the remains with warm affection, and a hefty dose of pride.

Chicken and Bean Stew
For five

Two chicken thighs per person
Three leeks, sliced
Eight cloves of garlic
200g pancetta or bacon, cut into small chunks.
500ml chicken stock
a large glass of white wine
a handful each of thyme and parsley
2 tins of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed.

Preheat the oven to 160°c
In a big casserole pot that has a lid, over a medium high heat, brown the chicken pieces in a little olive oil.  It might take a few batches.  When they’re brown all over, remove them from the pan.
In the same oil, fry the bacon, and remove from the pan.
Reduce the heat to a low heat before adding the garlic cloves, whole but flattened a little.  Then add the leeks.
Add the glass of wine and let it bubble gently before adding the stock and the beans.
Throw the bacon and the chicken back in the pan.  Tuck in some thyme stalks, put the lid on and put it in the oven.  Leave to bubble gently for an hour, turn up the heat to 180°c and take the lid off for the last twenty minutes, with a sprinkling of thyme leaves.
Sprinkle with parsley before serving.  It’s nice with a simple salad.

Chocolate and Beetroot Cake
Makes a twenty cm cake

250g cooked beetroot, pureed into a coarse paste
200g 70% chocolate
4 tablespoons espresso
200g butter, cubed
5 eggs
190g golden caster sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g ground almonds
100g buckwheat flour (plain flour or rice flour would be good too)

crème fraiche and poppy seeds to serve

Lightly grease a 20cm cake tin, and line the bottom with greaseproof paper.
Preheat the oven to 160°c.
Sift the flour, almonds, baking powder and cocoa in a bowl together.
Melt the chocolate in a separate bowl over a pan of simmering water, without stirring.
When it’s almost melted, pour over the hot coffee and give it all a stir.
Push the cubed butter into the mixture, take the chocolate off the heat and stir until the butter is melted.
Separate the eggs, with the egg whites in a big bowl, and mix the yolks with the chocolate, stirring until all the egg is combined.  Then stir in the beetroot.
Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and whisk in the sugar.
Lightly fold the egg whites into the chocolate, followed by the flour mixture.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes.
Leave to cool completely in the tin.
Serve with the cream and poppy seeds.