a hearty winter soup

This soup doesn’t look like much in the bowl, but I promise you eyebrows will raise once you taste it. It first caught my attention while reading Orangette a few weeks ago. Laid up with a sinus infection, that manifested into strep throat, left me with time to catch up on blog reading. The timing wasn’t ideal, just one week before Christmas, but one must make the best of a bad situation, right?

So, after I dropped the girls off at school one morning, I popped into the market and picked up a head of Savoy cabbage, and got to work slicing it paper thin when I got back home. The recipe is from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking. I must confess that I didn’t own one of her cookbooks until just a few weeks ago. After cooking up this very humble cabbage dish, the fire was fueled, and two days later the book arrived at my house. I instantly became smitten with it, but also realized the reason I had yet to add one of her books to my collection. Partly, I prefer to collect vintage, hard-to-find, cookbooks. There’s only so much book real estate one can allocate in a NYC apartment.

Hazan was a cook to whom we owe much in terms of preserving old Italian recipes, and methods. Her tone, though, is rather contrary to my approach. My feeling when sharing recipes is to encourage people to get into the kitchen, and I believe that was her goal, too. Still, you have to read the introduction to Essentials of Italian Cooking with confidence in your skills. For instance, when she discusses basil in the Fundamentals section (pages 7 to 52), she says “Do not ever use dried or powdered basil. Many people freeze or preserve basil. I’d rather use it fresh and, if it isn’t available, wait until it is in season”.

It is a well-intentioned point of view, and I agree fresh basil offers the most true flavor. The reality is that most people do not use a whole bunch of basil before it goes bad. Preserving is a very thrifty way to manage your budget, and still enjoy a basil-flecked marinara sauce year-round. I appreciate her conviction, but cooking isn’t one size fits all, and I prefer to write in a way that welcomes the reader to try recipes with less rigidity.

Alas, I’ve gone off topic, in a way, so let us make our way back to the soup. As the smothered cabbage, the base for the recipe, wilted away on the stove top, I began to get excited. The smell was intoxicating. I stayed true to her recipe, for the most part, with one very liberal change. The soup, as Molly describes it, is supposed to be a loose kind of risotto, meaning on the thicker-bodied side. The intent to heal my cold left me wanting a soup with more broth to slurp, so I doubled the amount of stock. It was still incredibly thick, so don’t let this sway you. I’m including the original measurements, so you can decide which version you want to go with. I also used Pecorino-Locatelli cheese to add a sharper edge to my soup. Hazan’s original recipe calls for Parmigiano-Reggiano, which has a nuttier, aged flavor (a favorite of mine, too).

The last time I made this soup, just a few days ago, in fact, I had run out of chicken stock in the freezer. Sadly, I came home to find my last jar had cracked (yes, it almost made me cry). I was also out of my homemade vegetable bouillon—it’s bare bones around here, I tell you, so I swapped in plain old cold water. I’ll be honest, it is a more substantial tasting soup, if you have chicken stock on hand. In a pinch, though, the water worked just fine, and a little extra Pecorino sprinkled on top gave it the necessary oomph. A couple of slices of this apple-sage vegan sausage on top made it extra hearty. Don’t worry about serving it alone, though, it is sure to leave a last impression.

Last night I fell asleep with Hazan’s book by my side, a number of pages now dog-eared. Her spell has been cast on me, and the respect to which she pays to food, coaxing flavors from simple ingredients, makes me wish I wasn’t so late in picking up her cookbook. The saying goes “better late than never”, though, and I hope to have a few more decades of cooking left. I plan to hand her book down to my girls one day, splattered with memories of the many meals to come.

Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup

Music Pairing: I’m Living in a Great Big Way by Louis Prima

slightly adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

Serves 6

Hazan notes in her recipe that you can use regular green, red or Savoy cabbage. I’ve only made it with Savoy, but am eager to try it with red cabbage next. I imagine it will be a nice contrast of color with the rice.

One batch of smothered cabbage (recipe here)

6 cups (1.5 L) chicken or vegetable stock (the original recipe only uses 3 cups/750 ml)

2/3 cup (140 grams) arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano rice

2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter

1/2 cup (56 grams) freshly grated Pecorino-Locatelli cheese, plus more for garnishing

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add the cabbage and stock to a deep 6-quart pot. Bring to a boil. Add the rice, and cook until it is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the butter and cheese. Season with pepper, and taste, adjusting for salt, and more pepper, as needed. The soup will last, stored in a covered container in the fridge, for up to one week.


  • Maria in NJ ~ Dolcelicious Bake Shoppe

    I would never guess to cook cabbage to that extent…I check out your link and it looks amazing, my DH loves cabbage, I must try this…thank you Jennie

  • Amanda

    I think the hearty, soul-warming element to this post was the consideration you gave to Marcella’s words and your approach to sharing a love for and invitation to cooking.

    Can’t wait to have the aroma of this soup infusing our below zero weekend.

  • Jeanne

    This soup sounds delicious ! I have Marcella’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”, I looked through it but have never made anything from it. Your post has me wanting to try this soup and also giving her book a second look. Thank you so very much for helping me find my love of cooking again. Your blog and then your cookbook gave it all back to me 🙂

  • Deanna1001

    I have had her original Italian cookbook since the late 70s…it was a revelation to me at that time. Please try her minestrone – it is superb! and her instructions are less rigid than for other recipes. I have cooked many things from that book and always been happy with the outcome. I’ve never done this one as my husband is not a fan of cabbage, but will have to revisit that. Thanks for posting! And Happy New Year.

  • Minnie@thelady8home

    A soup that I would love to try….cabbage is one of my fav vegetables and I always feel I don’t get to eat enough. Bookmarking!

    Happy new Year to you and the girls Jennie 🙂

  • Rochelle

    I made this soup last evening (with Smitten Kitchen’s Perfect Uncluttered Chicken Stock), and it is amazing! Thanks for a great new soup for wintertime!

  • Tracey

    Can we use brown rice if we don’t have any other type of rice, and frankly have never heard of other types of rice?
    JP’s Note: The other types of rice listed are what you use to make risotto. They absorb water differently than regular white and brown rice, yielding a creamier texture. You can try it with brown rice, but the results will certainly be different. I’ve never made it this way, so can’t comment on what the final dish would be like in terms of body and texture.

  • Lynn

    I add cabbage to many different soups. This week it was Thai chicken and veg with red cabbage. The next day it was all BLUE. Have never had that happen. Some reaction to the fish sauce? Luckily my husband has been a good sport. Blue chicken is off putting. Eating in dim lighting helps.

  • Jwhite

    As to the basil, plunk it down in a jar of water when you get it home. It’ll last for weeks and even start roots. Trimming the ends facilitates this and you can grow it for months hydroponically. A sunny windowsill helps. Weed out any plants that turn brown and give it fresh water.

  • Cheryl

    I tried this with Savoy cabbage and absolutely loved it. I then got seduced by the idea of red cabbage, and didn’t like the texture at all. Can’t wait to make it again with the Savoy!

  • mary

    I bought Hazans books back in the day…so now they are vintage. If you start soon, you will have your own collection of important and loved cookbooks that you will cherish as much as the ones you have let other people choose as the best vintage.

    JP’s note: Oh Mary, trust me, I do have quite a collection of current cookbooks, too. I don’t see my vintage collection as other people’s best picks. I purposefully choose them all for a reason.

  • Smothered Cabbage Recipes

    Looks really delicious. Will definitely try Hazan’s book for more recipes. For now, I think experimenting with variety of cabbage would be a good idea. I like your idea of trying it with red cabbage, may be it will give a rich colour and flavour. Will definitely post your link on my site and of course come back for more.