Belinda Jeffery

Cavolo nero and borlotti bean soup

This hearty soup is a real stick-to-the ribs affair. There’s a fair bit of chopping initially required with this recipe, however once that’s done it’s really straightforward to make…and the results are delicious!


Serves 8 – 10

250 g dried borlotti beans

4 cloves garlic, bruised and peeled

1/3 cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil

4 large cloves garlic, extra, finely chopped

2 small red chillies, finely chopped

4 large onions, diced

500g (about 600g untrimmed) celery stalks, finely sliced

450g carrots, peeled and diced

70g flat-leaf parsley leaves (at least a couple of good handfuls), roughly chopped

2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato pesto

2 x 400 g cans diced tomatoes

Approx. 600g Tuscan black kale (cavolo nero), stalks removed and leaves roughly chopped

1 tablespoon sea salt, or more to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Shaved or grated parmesan and good sourdough bread, to serve

Rinse the beans thoroughly under cold running water, then tip them into a large bowl. Cover them with a generous amount of cool water (they will drink it up) then cover the bowl and leave them in a cool spot overnight to soak and swell.


The next day, drain the beans then tip them into a large saucepan. Completely cover them with cold water, sit them over high heat and bring them to the boil. Reduce the heat so they bubble steadily for 10 minutes, then drain them again. Return them to the pan along with the bruised garlic cloves, and pour in a fresh lot of water to cover them to the depth of 5cm. Return them to the heat and let them bubble gently, occasionally skimming any scum from the surface, until they’re tender. The time for this can vary greatly depending on how fresh the beans are – I usually start checking after an hour, but they could take another half hour or so. The only way to check properly is to fish a couple out – blow on them (if they’re ready, the skins will probably peel back as you do this) and then eat them. Once they’re ready, drain them, but keep the water they were cooked in.


Warm the oil in a very large saucepan or stock pot over medium-low heat. Tip in the chopped garlic, chilli, onion, celery, carrot and parsley and cook them, stirring regularly, for 30 minutes.


Dollop in the sun-dried tomato pesto and cook it for a couple of minutes, stirring all the while so it releases its fragrance. Mix in the canned tomatoes and their juices, and continue cooking over low heat for another 25 minutes – the mixture will be very thick and should bubble gently. Now add the cavolo nero and borlotti beans and stir well, then add 2 litres of the reserved bean cooking water (if you don’t have enough, top it up with boiling water).  Increase the heat to bring the liquid to the boil, then adjust it so the soup bubbles gently. Cook for another 30 minutes or until the cavolo nero is tender, then turn off the heat and add the salt and season to taste with pepper. The soup will be very thick (a spoon should literally stand up in it!) however if you like you can thin it out with a little water – but not too much or it will water down the flavour too.


I usually let the soup sit a little before serving it, as I think the flavour is best when it’s not boiling hot. Ladle it into bowls, sprinkle on a little parmesan (put a bowlful on the table too) and serve it with some good chewy sourdough bread – it’s an absolute must for dunking!


Allow any leftover soup to cool completely, then pour it into an airtight container and seal it tightly. Store it in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for a couple of months.