This white bean, kale and Parmesan soup has been upping my and my boys’ veg quota all week. We got back from two lovely weeks on holiday in New England on Sunday. I don’t know about you but I always come back from holiday wanting to force-feed myself with veg. I try my best when we’re away but the lure of fries rather than greens as a side dish is one I struggle to resist. So I atone when I return home.
We landed back to our veg patch overflowing with kale, chard and spinach as well as our first apples and courgettes. So exciting. My brain whirred into action at the site of all that kale and having seen kale soup on the menu in Cape Cod – something to do with the early Portuguese settlers – I was craving something similar, simple but gutsy. This white bean, kale and Parmesan soup recipe took about 30 mins of hands-on cooking and gave us plenty of leftovers for the freezer. Win win.
How to turn white bean, kale and Parmesan soup into a family dinner
I know a few people panic at the thought of soup for dinner. But my boys and husband gobbled this up. We often base our dinner around a big pan of soup with some extras. I made it more of a meal by serving it with a sliced room temperature tomato and basil salad – dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, sea salt flakes and black pepper and topped with a ball of burrata (extra creamy mozzarella). You can see my video of my perfect caprese salad here.
We eat the salad out of shallow serving bowls first and then put the soup in the same bowls. I could pretend I do this so the juices from the tomato mingle beautifully with the soup…but really it’s to save washing dishes. A hunk of warmed, gutsy bread is essential to dunk in both the salad and the soup.
If you’re cooking for children who have issues with chunky soup, use a stick blender to blend theirs. If greenery is the issue, make this pesto with spinach, kale or rocket and stir that through at the end of cooking instead of adding the chopped greens.
The whole family ate everything and it cost about £1.50 ($2) per serving even with that fancy burrata cheese.
The secret ingredients
The Parmesan rind I add to the soup adds an essential savoury flavour. You need something to give the soup guts and this is it. I keep the ends of pieces of Parmesan in the freezer in a little bag and use them from frozen in bolognese, stews and soups. If you don’t have a leftover rind, the cheese counter at the supermarket should furnish you with one. Or just chop one off a new block of Parmesan and use the rest to grate. They impart their flavour (like cheese teabags) and then you pull them out before serving. Or if you have tricky children at the table, leave the rind in and tell them that the person who finishes their soup and finds the rind gets a prize. Whatever it takes people.
And on the other end of the flavour spectrum, a final sprinkle of red wine vinegar brightens up the finished soup. Taste it before and after you add it and you’ll see what I mean.
Ingredients for white bean, kale and Parmesan soup
Serves 4 adults as dinner or 2 adults and 2 children with leftovers for the freezer.
Hands on cooking time 30 minutes. Total cooking time 70-90 minutes.
Note – package sizes very between shops and countries. This recipe works well with a bit too much, or a bit less of these ingredients.
150g (5oz) smoked pancetta cubes
2 medium red onions
2 stems celery
1-2 courgettes (zucchini)
1-2 red peppers (bell peppers)
1 can chopped tomatoes
2 cans drained white beans (470g/30oz drained weight) – cannellini in the UK, white kidney beans in the US
a large stem of fresh rosemary or oregano
1 Parmesan rind
a couple of big handfuls of whole leaf kale or chard – don’t buy the ready chopped kale as it is all stalk
Sea salt, black pepper, chili flakes
2-3 teaspoons red wine vinegar
30g (1oz) basil
30-50g (1-2oz) Parmesan – buy a block and grate it rather than the ready grated stuff
To make white bean, kale and Parmesan soup
- Heat your biggest lidded saucepan or a heavy enamel pan (Dutch Oven), I use my Le Creuset, on a high heat.
- Empty the pancetta cubes into the heated pan. No need for extra oil as the pancetta releases the oil as it cooks. Drop the temperature to medium as soon as the pancetta sizzles.
- While the pancetta cooks, finely dice the onion. Add the diced onion to the pan and stir.
- Slice each stem of celery into four long strips then turn the strips and slice across to get a fine dice. Add to the pan and stir.
- Finely dice the red pepper and courgette and add it to the pan and stir. By now the pancetta should have released most of its oil and start to look crispy. Cook the pepper and courgette for a couple of minutes then add the canned tomatoes, fill the drained can of tomatoes with water and add that too. Add the drained beans, stem of herbs, a pinch of chili flakes and the Parmesan rind and stir. Bring the heat up to high until the soup bubbles.
- Put a lid on the pan and drop the heat to low. Simmer for 40-60 minutes.
- When the soup is nearly ready, finely chop your kale or chard leaves and stems. I do this by gathering the bunch together with the stalks together. Then holding the stems, start chopping at the leaf end and move towards the stalks. Chop the stalks really finely.
- Finely chop your basil stalks in the same way and add them to the pan along with the basil leaves.
- Turn the heat off the pan and add the greens to the pan. Stir well. As you stir, the heat will wilt the greens.
- Taste the soup and gradually add red wine vinegar, salt and pepper until the flavour suits you. Pancetta varies in saltiness so it is best to taste. The soup will keep warm in the pan for about 20 minutes if need be.
- Serve the white bean, kale and Parmesan soup with the Parmesan grated over the top.
- Let leftovers cool and then keep in the fridge for 3 days or freeze in individual portions. You may need to add a little more red wine vinegar when you re-heat it.
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