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With cold weather setting in I’m in the mood for soup. Soup not only warms the soul; it’s also a great way to incorporate healthy legumes and vegetables into your diet. I make dozens of soups throughout the dead of winter, but love the simple ones best. Make it a practice to have some good broth on hand in your pantry or freezer and a quick, easy soup is always within reach.

Kale, a leafy green vegetable, is generous to the taste buds and is packed with vitamins A, C, folic acid, calcium, iron and antioxidants (great for women). A cabbage relative, kale gets it name from the ancient Scots. It’s been grown in vegetable gardens for over 2,000 years. Today, kale is very popular in Northern European cuisine, and is used in countless traditional recipes worldwide. Often paired with potatoes, sausages or smoked meats, kale gives body and texture to soups, stews and other one-pot dishes.

One bunch of kale is more than enough for most recipes, meaning this veggie offers true bang for your buck. When shopping for kale, look for deeply colored, crisp leaves. Avoid bunches that appear wilted, yellowed or “sad.” While there are many varieties of kale, differing in texture and color, they are all fairly interchangeable in the kitchen.

Recently I picked up two varieties of kale from Urbana’s farmer’s market. I decided to cook a pot of ribollita, a Tuscan peasant dish I fell in love with when traveling in Italy ten years ago. It’s one of those dishes that makes you feel nurtured. Although it takes a while to prepare, the effort is worthwhile — and provides ample leftovers. Ribollita features black kale, also called dinosaur kale, cavalo nero or lacinato. The leaves are dark blue-green, elongated and heavily “waffled” in texture. If you can’t find black kale, don’t worry; you can use any available variety. After washing, simply strip the leaves from the stem with a paring knife or tear them away by hand. Then you’re ready to begin.

Ribollita
Makes 6 servings
Adapted from The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy by Domenica Marchetti

For the beans:
2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight in water to cover
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
6 cups water
Kosher or sea salt

For the soup:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, trimmed and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, cut into ½ inch dice
2 yellow potatoes, such as Yukon gold, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice
½ head green cabbage, about 8oz. shredded
8 oz. of dinosaur kale, washed, trimmed and shredded
4 oz. beet greens, washed and shredded (optional)
1 cup canned tomatoes
Kosher sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Drain the beans, placing them in a large saucepot. Add the onion, garlic, parsley and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Reduce the heat to medium low or low, as needed to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook for two hours, or until the beans are tender. Add salt to taste during the last 15 minutes of cooking. Remove from heat and let cool for ten minutes. Remove and discard the onion, garlic and parsley sprigs. In a blender, puree half of the beans along with some of the cooking liquid.

(You can skip this step by using two cans of cooked cannellini or navy beans. Rinse the beans well to remove the thick canning residue. Puree one can of the beans with some water or vegetable broth.)

In another large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic, and sauté, stirring for seven to eight minutes, or until the vegetables have begun to soften. Add the carrots, potatoes, cabbage, kale and beet greens (if using) and stir to combine thoroughly. Stir in the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for ten minutes, or until the greens have begun to wilt and soften.

Add the whole and pureed beans along with any remaining cooking liquid. (If you’re using canned beans, add about four or five cups of vegetable broth to make up for the bean cooking liquid.) Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to one hour or until the vegetables are completely tender and the soup has thickened. Add additional water (up to three cups) if the soup seems too thick.
The soup can be eaten as is, or cooled, covered, and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.

I usually serve the soup over a large slice of toasted bread and garnished with freshly grated parmesan cheese and a touch of extra virgin olive oil. Traditionally, the soup is layered in a large pot with alternating slices of roughly torn toasted bread and re-boiled or baked in the oven until it gets thick and porridge-like. Personally, I skip that step and eat it right away.