Last April, Food52’s Cookbook Club chose Smitten Kitchen Every Day as their book to cook through that month, but I promise, this isn’t the point at all. The club has monthly picks and a yearly Bonus Book, a cookbook participants cook through at their leisure. So while April was my book’s month, for 2018, that book was Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden.
I already loved this book. We talked about it that month in regard to a crunchy asparagus salad that I mixed with chopped jammy eggs on toast, with a photo that still makes me smile. I told you that you needed to buy that book right then, especially if you also delighted in inventive but not overly complicated vegetable preparations (225 of them, even) and things you hadn’t thought of but would immediately tuck into your repertoire.
But because I checked on the group multiple times a day to respond to comments and questions on my cookbook recipes, I also read many posts about things the group were simultaneously cooking from the Six Seasons book and I need to tell you that probably 40% of these posts extolled the virtues of the book’s Comforting Cabbage and Farro Soup.
You’re about to tell me that you don’t want to eat a cabbage soup. That you don’t find cabbage “comforting.” That you have nightmares of having to eat stewed or braised cabbage growing up, and you’re an adult and you’re not going to do that anymore. You’re probably thinking that this soup is very brown and beige, not exactly a looker, amiright? But that’s exactly my point. This soup is not going to sell itself. I had that book for a year, and had never once paused on this page to consider whether I needed this soup in my life. It took these repeated, sometimes multiple times in a day, posts from random internet strangers reporting that they, too, had made the soup the night before, and it had exceeded all of their cabbage and also soup hopes and dreams for me to become convinced that I might find it wonderful too.
And they were right. So now, I must do the same for you. I know it’s not pretty. I imagine that you’re skeptical. But the cabbage is slowly cooked down with onion and garlic — think Marcella Hazan’s famous smothered cabbage, but even better — then expanded best stock you have (homemade chicken is great here, but non-homemade or vegetable will work too) and then farro and then, at the end, you add a squeeze of lemon juice to the pot and it shakes the entire foundation of the soup into something bright and fascinating. In bowls, you finish it with a drizzle of olive oil, shaved parmesan, salt and pepper, with extra lemon on the side. It’s the coziest, warmest, most filling thing, and the exact soup I needed to kick 2019 off with. I hope you agree.
[Psst! Kicking January off with a new soup recipe for, like, balance and stuff, is an almost yearly tradition here at SK.]
One year ago: Split Pea Soup
Two years ago: Chicken Wonton Soup
Three years ago: Chicken Chili
Four years ago: My Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup
Five years ago: Parmesan Broth with Kale and White Beans
Six years ago: Carrot Soup with Crisped Chickpeas
Seven years ago: Carrot Soup with Miso and Sesame
Eight years ago: Chard and White Bean Stew
Nine years ago: Southwestern Pulled Brisket
Ten years ago: Squash and Chickpea Moroccan Stew
Eleven years ago: Viennese Cucumber Salad
Twelve years ago: Really Smiple Homemade Pizza
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Corn Fritters
1.5 Years Ago: Confetti Party Cake
2.5 Years Ago: Peaches and Cream Bunny Cake
3.5 Years Ago: Oven Ribs, Even Better
4.5 Years Ago: Blue and Red Berry Ricotta Galettes
Cozy Cabbage and Farro Soup
A few notes: This is a good soup to double because while it makes 4 portions, you’ll see, it’s not a speck over one standard soup bowl per person. If you double it, you’ll need to add the cabbage a little at a time until it shrinks down, but it otherwise shouldn’t be a problem in a 5 to 6-quart pot.
While this soup could be vegetarian (using vegetable stock), or even vegan (skipping the parmesan), you could also go in the other direction, adding a ham hock or beef shank for a heartier soup. You could use rice instead of farro, but I do like the chewiness of the grain here.
As always with recipes with short ingredient lists, and rather plain ingredients, seasoning is everything. Keep adding salt and pepper until it tastes right.
Finally, my cabbage tends to brown and seem fully cooked far sooner than the recipe suggests it will be (30 minutes). I end up moving the recipe along sooner, and it’s not a problem. I’ve used savoy cabbage both times; it’s possible that with a regular green cabbage, it might need the full softening time.
- 1 pound cabbage, savoy or green
- Olive oil
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 1 sprig of rosemary or thyme (optional because I’ve forgotten it each time, and not regretted it)
- 1 tablespoon red wine or white wine vinegar
- 2/3 cup uncooked farro
- About 4 cups homemade or storebought chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Shaved parmesan, to finish
Cut out the cabbage core and finely chop it. Cut the leaves into fine shreds or about 1/8-inch ribbons. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cabbage core, some salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to soften but is not yet browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 3 to 5 minutes, until the garlic softens too. Add the shredded cabbage leaves and herb sprig, if using. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot and let it steam a bit to soften the leaves, then toss the cabbage to combine with other ingredients. Cook, covered, until the cabbage is very sweet and tender, which the book says will take 30 minutes but I find 15 to 20 minutes usually does the trick. Stir occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat a glug of olive oil over medium and add the uncooked farro. Toast it, stirring, for a few minutes, until half a shade darker.
When the cabbage is ready, stir in the vinegar. Taste and season with more salt and pepper. Add toasted farro and broth. Bring mixture to a lazy simmer and cook for 25 to 35 minutes, until farro is tender and all the flavors are married. The soup will be very thick, but if you’d prefer more liquid, add another 1/2 cup broth or water. Taste and adjust seasoning again. Stir in lemon juice.
Ladle into bowls and finish each with a drizzle of olive oil and a shower of parmesan, with more parmesan passed at the table.
Do ahead: Soup keeps well in the fridge for 3 days, and for weeks or longer in the freezer.
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