Boiled cabbage. There I said it. That’s because I have more selfishness for you. This time it’s selfish cabbage soup with chestnuts and pancetta. I said I was going to only cook things that appealed to me at the most basic level for a while and I meant it. Cabbage appeals to me. It’s not a glamorous vegetable. Many otherwise intelligent people shun cabbage. Especially boiled cabbage. But to me, it’s one of those elemental foods I’ve been trying to get back to all week. Besides, I’ve included chestnuts and pancetta to soften the shock of boiled cabbage.
You see, I believe cabbage can help me reboot! I’ve been feeling like my blog is getting away from me. So I’ve spent the last few posts trying to focus on the foods I love. Because lately, I’ve put too much of my attention on exterior forces: numbers, popularity, publicists, trends. Then there’s FoodBuzz, I found myself bending to the new realities there too.
Don’t get me wrong. Numbers are important to a blog, and I’m kind of a numbers wonk. Publicists also play an important role in the success of a blog. And FoodBuzz. I bet nobody loves FoodBuzz more than me. I credit FoodBuzz (along with TasteSpotting and FoodGawker) with being the glue that brings food bloggers together and transforms us into a community. In fact, it’s this very glue that I love most about blogging. So I’m not dissing any of these outside influencers.
But just because those entities do so much good for our community doesn’t mean they’re always right when it comes to what’s best for us as individuals. What we do with this community is entirely up to us. What’s a community if not a collection of individuals with shared interests and the means to share them? What’s a blog if not a reflection of its individual author?
Cabbage Soup with Chestnuts and Pancetta
Well, lately when I take a peek into the community food blog mirror I see a man who’s gotten a little lost. I have to wonder, what distinguishes my blog from any other. On the surface– not much. But at its most elemental the obvious answer is me. I am what distinguishes this blog from any other. That means all my strengths and weaknesses combined.
So I decided to bring a few posts reminding you (or do I mean me?) why I started this blog in the first place. There’s plenty of time for crowd pleasers and Top 9 Cupcakes. Ultimately I cook to please people, so I’m sure I’ll get back around to it… I’m not a heretic!
But in the meantime, you’ll be seeing recipes that appeal to me, warts and all. Things like bloody rare beef, or fennel and wild greens from the hills near my house. It also means things that actually make otherwise good and decent people disgusted. Yep, I mean anchovies, and maybe even quail. I can do quail if I feel like it. I can do beef tongue or confit of pigs heart. I’m not saying I will, but these are foods I have enjoyed recently and am inspired by.
But it can also mean something less exotic, and far more humble. Something not really as appreciated as it should be. It can mean cabbage.
serves 6 CLICK here for a printable recipe
- 20 raw chestnuts
- 6 c water
- 1 T salt
- 1 cavolo nero or savoy cabbage, tough outer leaves removed
- 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 7 oz pancetta, sliced thin and cut crosswise into ribbons
- 1 large onion, cut into 1/4″ dice
- 3 clv garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 t rosemary leaves
- 1 c red wine
- salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Find the flat side of each chestnut and cut a large X with a sharp paring knife all the way through the skin. Be very careful, it’s easy to slip on the surface of the chestnut. I wear a silicon glove.
Place chestnuts on a shallow baking pan and place in the oven to roast for about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of nuts. Shake pan several times to rotate chestnuts so they will cook evenly.
Peel roasted chestnuts as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Once they cool completely, they are difficult to peel. Roughly chop the peeled nuts. Set aside.
Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large stock pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the chopped cabbage and cook about 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and cover the pot to keep warm.
Warm the olive oil in a very large skillet set over medium heat. Add the pancetta, and cook stirring often, until it just begins to brown about 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring often about 3 more minutes until the onion softens. Add the rosemary and garlic, cooking another 2 or 3 minutes.
Using tongs move about half of the cabbage to the skillet with the onion mixture. Add the wine to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid is evaporated. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Using an immersion blender puree the remaining cabbage and its cooking liquid in the stock pot. Add the reserved onion mixture, stirring to incorporate. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Using the immersion blender, blend the soup just a little bit to get a variable texture. It can be as rough or smooth as you prefer.
Add half the reserved chestnuts and bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Serve the soup hot with a garnish of remaining chestnuts and a drizzle of olive oil.
This soup is particular beautiful if you can find a deeply purple cavolo nero cabbage. Which is not the same thing as a red cabbage. Use green savoy if a cavalo nero is not available.