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Tuscan kale and bean soup

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.

A no fuss, make ahead kale salad.

It was only ten o’clock, in the morning that is, but I needed to prepare dinner just so that I could have peace of mind that it was done. Knowing that it would still be in a perfectly edible condition by the time that dinner came around, I made a kale salad. You see my Father in law, or Pa as he is now titled, was coming over and I was in no fit state to cook. Not that he would’ve minded, but I would have felt like I was letting him and myself down if I didn’t prepare something. Thea, and so in turn I, had been awake most of the previous night. Well, more like previous nights. I was getting the feeling that it was time for her to make the move from her moses basket in our room to her big girl’s bed in hers. Originally she was always going to go straight into a cot in her own room to sleep. That was until she arrived early and my instinct to keep her close told me otherwise. Now that same instinct was telling me she was ready to sleep alone and that in time, we would all have a more peaceful night’s rest. With lack of sleep I believe comes the need to eat well, so a kale salad with sausages and garlic bread seemed like a good, as well as easy, idea.

The kale was already in the fridge, bought at the Beaches market on Friday. Heading to the markets early in the morning is a weekly activity that I love to share with Thea. As we weave around the stalls together, strangers lavish her with attention and she offers countless smiles in return. We have been buying regular bunches of kale lately, It keeps so well in the fridge and I am continuing to find new ways to incorporate this nutritious leafy green into my week night dinner repertoire. Blanched in place of basil in pesto, along with spring onions and shredded pork in fried rice, combined with a bechemel sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan to make a gratin and shredded and eaten raw in a salad. The best thing about kale in a salad is that, even dressed, it doesn’t wilt, so preparing this dish during Thea’s morning nap did not affect its quality and it happily remained assembled until we dug into it at dinner that night. I must mention that it is better at room temperature though.

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To complete the meal in an effortless but satisfying way, and because I know that Pa likes it, I made some garlic bread. I had some sourdough left over from the weekend that was now a little dry, but still perfect for toasting. In a pestel and mortar I pounded together a few cloves of garlic and a handful of parsley leaves with a pinch of sea salt. When a paste had formed I mixed in a generous amount of soft butter. I spread the resulting verdant butter onto thick slices of hot toast and then popped the toast back under the grill for a few more minutes. While Pa cooked sausages on the barbecue, I removed the cling wrap from the kale salad and laid the table. Dinner was served. As we ate, Thea slept peacefully in her big girl’s bed, in her own room, for the first night.

Kale Salad

Adapted from a recipe by Marin Mama Cooks

  • 1 bunch of kale, leaves stripped from tough stems and washed
  • 300g Brussels sprouts
  • Handful of coarsely grated pecorino
  • Handful of almonds
  • 1 tbs butter

Dressing

  • 1 small red onion, very finely diced
  • 1 clove of garlic grated on a microplane
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs Dijon mustard

To make the dressing shake all the ingredients together in a jam jar and then leave to sit while you make the salad. the reason that I do this is so that the onion softens.

Finely shred the kale and Brussels sprouts. While you are doing this, cook the almonds in butter over a low heat until slightly coloured, then coarsely chop. Add the almonds to the shredded green leaves along with the Pecorino and dressing.

When you add the dressing to the kale salad, make sure that you really scrunch it in with you hands so that all the leaves are well coated. Enjoy x

NB. I added apple to the salad in the above photo because we were having pork sausages.