After a glorious food focused weekend in Melbourne (just Mark and me, no Thea, eeek), back in the regularity of my home kitchen, I wanted to make something simple and warming. Something both visually appealing and delicious, but more akin to the everyday than the food that I had relished over the past few days. Tuscan kale and bean soup, perhaps inspired by time spent on Lygon Street, Melbourne’s ‘Little Italy’, seemed like a good idea. Colourful and textural, with its nourishing chicken stock, sultry kale and comforting beans. Plus the snowy cap of parmesan that I could finely grate over the top for a salty kick, made it a perfect fit.
Melbourne was fun and we ate very well. Black Angus intercostals, slow cooked for 36 hours, then charred to perfection and served with watercress and green chilli at the Town Mouse. Chorizo and mozzarella arancini (something to try and recreate at home) and crisp, salty crackling with remoulade at City Wine Shop. Beautifully fresh buffalo mozzarella simply dressed with peppery olive oil at DOP. And quite possibly the most stunning duck that I will ever eat in my life, 55 floors up, surrounded by a sea of twinkling lights illuminating the city below at Vue de Monde.
Dining at Vue de Monde is not an everyday event. It’s a theatrical, multi course, gourmet adventure, the date reserved well in advance. An occasion anticipated with great fervor. Something to get really excited about. At least for me anyway. I have been longing to dine at this highly acclaimed restaurant for nearly a decade, so finally stepping in to the private elevator, to take us up the Rialto tower to our table was a dream come true.
Every element of the dinner was flawless, from the filigree adorned cutlery, always perfectly positioned in readiness for the next course, to the absolute lightness of the finishing dish, a chocolate soufflé. The standout course though was roast duck. A duck that, before being carved, was brought to our table in all its roasted glory. Dry aged for 15 days and anointed with Tasmanian leatherwood honey and plentiful Murray River sea salt, roasted in a hot oven, the skin was an even dark caramel colour. The whole exterior reminded me of the top of a perfectly blowtorched creme brûlée, in that you know when you crack your spoon onto the glasslike melted sugar top, it will break with a wonderful crispy snap. Presented later to us on individual plates, the meat under the skin was blushing and the flavour, superb. With each mouthful, the duck was savoured and a food memory was firmly made.
I never get sick of eating. Or thinking about food and the things that I’m going to cook. Juxtaposing the elite creations sampled at Vue de Monde as well as the other wonderful food eaten in Melbourne though, with a simple but satisfying Tuscan kale and bean soup, allows me to take stock. To stand back and mentally digest the wonderfully indulgent, somewhat hedonistic, almost relaxing, (would have loved one more lie in) weekend just enjoyed.
Tuscan kale and bean soup
The quantities below make a large batch of Tuscan kale and bean soup, enough for a few suppers for two as well as several lunches.
For the chicken stock
- 1 kg chicken bones
- 2 sticks celery, roughy chopped
- 2 carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 onions, quartered, you can leave the skin on
- few bay leaves
- tsp black peppercorns
- juice of a lemon
Simply place the bones, 5 litres of water and lemon juice in a pot and leave to sit for 20 minutes. This simple step helps to extract all the minerals from the bones.
Add all the remaining ingredients and bring the stock to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer the stock for anywhere between 4-24 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the more nutrition will be extracted from the bones.
Cook for a minimum of four hours though to get a good flavour. For the first two hours, periodically skim the top of the stock, just with a large spoon, to remove any foam.
After the desired cooking time, strain the stock though a sieve and discard the cooked ingredients.
For the Tuscan kale and bean soup
- 250g cannellini beans, soaked in water overnight OR 2 400g tins cannellini beans
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 2 sticks celery, sliced
- 4 rashers bacon, diced
- 1/2 butternut squash, cut into small cubes
- 1 bunch cavolo nero (or other kale), finely shredded
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
Begin by cooking the soaked and strained beans in the chicken stock. This will take about 30 minutes.
At the same time, in another pot, sweat the onion, celery and carrot in a little oil. By sweat I mean cook the vegetables over a low heat with the lid on until they are very soft, but not browned.
Add the bacon to the sweated vegetables and cook for a few minutes before adding the chicken stock containing the cooked beans, cavolo nero and squash, salt and pepper. Simmer gently until the pumpkin and kale are cooked about 20 minutes. Check fro seasoning at this point and adjust as necessary.
Now here’s the thing. This Tuscan kale and bean soup is the perfect make ahead meal because it’s best cooked the day before it’s eaten. So, if you can resist, cool it, put it in the fridge and then reheat and enjoy the next day. With lots of finely grated parmesan, extra pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
Enjoy this recipe? You might also like chestnut soup.