Thursday 8 December 2011

Winter Greens

One thing I love most about Winter is that the Brassicas are at their best and along with the more obvious broccoli and cauliflower, cabbages and of course brussel sprouts the markets, and my veg box, fill up with a variety of Kales including the wonderful Cavalo Nero. Kale grow excellently in our climate as they freeze well and actually tastes sweeter and more flavourful after being exposed to a frost. Fabulously good for you, they need nothing more than stripping from their stems, blanching for a few minutes in plenty of boiling salted water, draining and leaving to cool before squeezing out any excess water. Then fry plenty of garlic slithers in lots of extra virgin olive oil (preferably Tuscan), until golden brown and add your leaves, roughly chopped if you like. A quick stir, a little sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Delicious! I like mine on a piece of toasted Polaine (or sourdough) bread, drenched with a little more olive oil. So simple and you have one of the best and healthiest snacks around. I have a theory, though completely unsubstantiated, that winter greens act as some sort of natural anti-depressant. Winter greens beat the blues.

I have also been working with Russel on a particular fine Chicken, Chorizo and Butter Bean Stew. I have made this a couple of times but felt it needed refining.  I narrowed it down to the quality of Chorizo which I felt was laking, so I set about sourcing some better Chorizo, which can be quite hard to find.  In the end, I got some from Brindisa, who stock many local shops, as well as of course their own wonderful shop in Borough Market.  They and are also on-line. The finally addition to lift this dish from everyday to extraordinary was some Kale and on a cold winters day, I defy you to find a better stew.

Cabbages are another Brassica that are wonderful right now and the King of all Cabbages has to be the Savoy. One of my favourite recipes is this bizarre Italian mountain soup, Zuppa di Aosta. The combination of cabbage, stale bread, cheese and anchovy, sounds nothing short of  horrid. But somehow these flavours merge together to create a harmonious yumminess that is beyond words.  It is actually a big bowl of Umami. Almost addictive, just don't tell anyone what is in it!

Zuppa d'Aosta

The original recipe that I used to use was in the first River Cafe Cook Book, but Jamie Oliver adds bacon in his more recent version in Jamie at Home and I do rather like it, so here is his recipe.  Fontina is an Italian mountain cheese from Aosta.  If you cannot find it then use Gruyere instead.

3 litres good-quality chicken or vegetable stock
1 Savoy cabbage, stalks removed, outer leaves separated, washed and roughly chopped
2 big handfuls cavolo nero and/or kale, stalks removed, leaves washed
and roughly chopped
About 16 slices stale country-style or sourdough bread
1 clove garlic, unpeeled, cut in 1/2
Olive oil
12 to 14 slices pancetta or smoked streaky bacon
100g can anchovy fillets, in oil
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked
200g Fontina cheese, grated
150g freshly grated Parmesan, plus a little for serving
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F.
Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan and add the cabbage, cavolo nero and/or kale. Cook for a few minutes until softened (you may have to do this in 2 batches). Remove the cabbage to a large bowl, leaving the stock in the pan. Toast all but 5 of the bread slices on a hot griddle pan or in a toaster, then rub them on 1 side with the garlic halves, and set aside.
Next, heat a large 10cm deep ovenproof casserole-type pan on the stove top, pour in a couple of glugs of olive oil and add your pancetta. When the pancetta is golden brown and sizzling, add the anchovies, rosemary and cooked cabbage and toss to coat the greens in all the lovely flavors. Put the mixture and all the juices back into the large bowl. 
Place 4 of the toasted slices in the casserole-type pan, in 1 layer. Spread over 1/3 of the cabbage leaves, sprinkle over a 1/4 of the grated Fontina and Parmesan and add a drizzle of olive oil. Repeat this twice, but don't stress if your pan's only big enough to take layers - that's fine. Just pour in all the juices remaining in the bowl and end with a layer of untoasted bread on top. Push down on the layers with your hands. Pour the stock gently over the top until it just comes up to the top layer. Push down again and sprinkle over the remaining Fontina and Parmesan. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper and drizzle over some good-quality olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven for around 30 minutes, or until crispy and golden on top. When the soup is ready, divide it between your bowls.  Add another grating of Parmesan.

Chicken, Chorizo, Butter Bean and Kale Stew
If you do not have a slow-cooker just cook on the stove top, covered, for about two hours.
8 Chicken Thighs or 4 Chicken legs, Free-range or Organic
Olive oil
3 sticks of celery, finely chopped
3 medium onions, finely chopped
6 fat cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
Fresh Rosemary, Thyme or Dried Oregano
200g of Chorizo, Picante, chopped into cubes
2 tins of plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tsp Smoked Paprika 
2 tins of Butter Beans, drained
2 large handfulls of Kale or Cavalo Nero, stripped from the stem, washed and dried.

Fry the chicken skin side down in hot oil.  If you do not like the skin, then skin the chicken and place in the slow-cooker.  In a large saucepan heat a good glug of olive oil and place just a medium heat.  Add the onion and celery and fry for about 10 minutes until soft and just beginning to go golden. Add the garlic and herbs and fry for a few minutes more.  Next add the chorizo and then the tomatoes, some salt, freshly ground black pepper and the paprika.  Bring to the boil and tip the whole lot over the chicken in the slow-cooker.  Add the butter beans, put on the lid and cook for 5 hours high or 7 hours low.  If you do not have a slow-cooker, cook covered on the stove top for 2-3 hours, very slowly, checking regularly to make sure that it does not catch.  15 minutes before the end of cooking time, remove the lid and check the seasoning.  Add more salt, pepper or Paprika to taste.  Roughly chop the Kale/Cavalo Nero and add it to the slow-cooker or saucepan. Make sure it is submerged in the liquid. Cook for another 5 minutes.  Turn off the cooker leave to sit for a further 10 minutes or so before serving.


  1. I love the look of that chicken and chorizo stew. I love Spanish flavours and am really missing chorizo at the moment as I'm pregnant and not supposed to eat it!

  2. Hi Francesca,

    Martin suggested I have a look at your site and I'm suitably inspired to get a slow cooker and do this recipe first. Will let you know how it goes.

    All best,


  3. I am very pleased to have inspired you. Please let me know how you get on.


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