Sometime in the last year or so I became aware of a new-to-me variety of kale: Tuscan kale. First I noticed it at the farmer's market. Then I saw a wonderful looking recipe for a soup using Tuscan kale (which also goes by many aliases among them black kale, dinosaur kale, and cavolo nero) on Toast, a food blog that is one of my daily reads. Lindy raved about Tuscan kale.
Then this summer I noticed a recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook for minestrone which included kale. The Gourmet Cookbook recommended using Tuscan kale which they described as having a "sweetness reminiscent of artichoke." By this point I'd also seen Tuscan kale at Whole Foods.
Finally last week I acquired a copy of Every Night Italian by Giuliano Hazan which had a recipe for Classic Tuscan Vegetable Soup which he says may vary by what is available but always contains beans and cavolo nero. Tuscan kale had just reappeared at my local farmer's market so I finally got around to trying it.
Interestingly, Giuliano Hazan's recipe uses cabbage and Swiss chard because he found that Tuscan kale was not widely available in 2000 when the book was written. My recipe is based mainly on Giuliano Hazan's although I have used Tuscan kale rather than the cabbage and Swiss chard. I also added pancetta but will probably not use it next time I make this soup. I don't think it added all that much. The orginal recipe also used zucchini which I omitted -- I find zucchinni to have an overly mushy texture in soups -- but if you like it, add it back.
Classic Tuscan Vegetable Soup
3 oz of pancetta in 1/2" dice (optional)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus more for serving
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 medium leek
1/3 cup celery, peeled to remove strings and in 1/4" dice
1/3 cup carrot in 1/4" dice
1.5 lbs Tuscan kale
1 cup canned cannellini or cranberry beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup canned whole peeled tomatoes with their juice, coarsley chopped
8 oz white boiling potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2" dice
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. In a large soup pot, saute the onion in the olive oil over medium-low heat until the onion is golden
2. While the onion is sauteeing, cut off the leak's root end and the tough green leaves, split the leak in half lengthwise, then cut in 1/2" pieces. Put the pieces to soak in a bowl of water to loosen any dirt. When the onion is golden, drain the leak, and add to the onion. Saute for a minute or two and then add the celery. When that has sauteed for a couple of minutes, add the carrots. Then add the kale leaves and saute them for a few minutes.
3. Add the remaining vegetables, season the vegetables with salt and pepper, then add 5 cups cold water, cover the pot and bring to a boil. When the pot comes to a boil, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Giuliano Hazan describes the vegetables as tender, almost creamy when they are done.
4. Just before serving, drizzle a little olive oil over each serving and sprinkle with grated cheese. You can also serve it with a piece of toasted bread in the bottom of each bowl if you are looking for an even more substantial soup. Pour the soup over the bread and let it sit for a few minutes before serving.
Let me say that my tastes don't generally veer towards leafy greens -- they veer more towards chocolate and all things unhealthy -- and I have never been a kale fan but I thought this was a delicious and satisfying soup. I took some to my parents who devoured the soup and raved about it. I do have to report though that Mike thought the soup smelled too cabbage-y. Flavor good, smell bad, was his assesment.
I understand about the kale smell thing. For several years I worked with a woman who ate kale for lunch every day. Everyone in the office would complain about how her kale left the office smelling. But I didn't find cabbage-smell syndrome to be a factor with this soup. While the taste wasn't reminiscent of artichokes, I thought the kale did have a pleasant artichoke-like smell.
By the way, when you talk about kale I think it's almost obligatory to mention how full of vitamins and nutrients it is. It's good for you. If you are interested in such things, here's an article that has good information.