White Bean and Kale Soup, Fennel Variation: Part 2


I don’t think my dad can stand it anymore. I think he might stop coming for dinner. My kids are complaining.  I just need one last brothy fennel scented bowl and I might be able to stop for awhile…

I hope you’re feeling smug. You have stock in the fridge and the freezer now.   Now the soup will be a snap. One thing about making stock is that it slips so easily into the rest of the day – especially if you’re fearless about leaving the barely bubbling pot on low heat and getting on with other things. Although I like all the small building blocks – slicing an onion is an exercise in thoughtful efficiency, smashing every clove in a head of garlic can be cathartic. The scent of fennel seeds crushed under a pestle – and I’m in Italy. There is nothing monumental about any of these tasks but the result is there simmering on the stove. If all you ever do is open a box of stock, all you get is that funky boxy chicken smell.

The work on Day Two is minor. You set the beans to soak  late in the day after the dishes are done, your kids are asleep and you are about to open a good book. At least that is what happens to me every single time. I get into bed at about 11:30 PM with my book, something I’ve been dying to read all day, and then suddenly I remember, I have to soak the beans! So I haul myself out of a warm bed, through the cold house, and downstairs to dump 1 1/2 cups of cannellini beans in the biggest Pyrex bowl and cover them generously with water. Then I go back to my book. That’s the end of Day Two. See what I mean? A four year old could do it – if he could stay up that late.

In the morning, it’s good to start before anyone else is awake. Outside is still darkly grey, but I flick on the light and the kitchen glows like a lantern. Drain the beans and put them in a large pot. Then cover them with 2 inches of water. Add a few smashed cloves of garlic. 24 peppercorns (don’t ask me why 24 – I read it in some recipe somewhere a long time ago and it just stuck) and bay in a large mesh ball. Start the pot to boil. When it does, lower the heat and leave to slowly simmer. I make a cup of coffee and go with my mug back to bed. I can laze around with my book for around 45 minutes then it’s probably time to turn off the stove. Taste a bean and see if it is soft – not mushy though – and nearly ready to eat. Now it is time to salt – if you salt at the beginning, the skins will be tough. Add salt to the water until it is quite salty – at least 2 tbsp. Turn off the heat. Let the beans sit there in the cooking liquid until you’re ready for them.  For me this could take at least until lunchtime.

Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup with Fennel, (Finally!)

  • 8 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 generous pinch of red chili flakes
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1  bunch of kale
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 4 canned plum tomatoes
  • the cooked cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 tsp fennel, freshly ground in a mortar and pestle or in a clean coffee grinder
  • the juice from one lemon
  • sea salt and pepper

Optional condiments

  • grated parmesan
  • green spicy olive oil
  • homemade croutons or toast with olive oil and garlic

Ok – the rest is quick.  Check it out: Chop the onion.

See how I sliced the onion in half from top to bottom, then made long parallel cuts toward the root.  After that it is very simple to slice thin perpendicular cuts to get perfect small dice. Cutting an onion this way is much faster than randomly chopping into tiny pieces.

Peel, then chop the carrots:

Trim then slice the celery:


Trim and core the fennel, slice into 1/4″ slices – they should look like long quarter moons.

Wash and remove the ribs of the kale. Slice into ribbons.


Take a large heavy bottomed soup pot (I use a 7 1/2 qt. enameled cast iron) and heat over medium heat.

Add 1/3 c. olive oil, the chopped onion and 1 tsp. chili flakes. Stir thoroughly and lower heat. Cover. Simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

Add the carrots and celery. Raise the heat to medium-high. Stir and cook with the lid off for 5 minutes.

Add the chopped garlic , ground fennel and sliced fennel. Cook for two minutes.

Add the tomato. Cook for 2 minutes.

Taste for salt and pepper. If you decided not to salt the stock, be sure that the vegetables are salted until they taste deliciously but not too salty.

Add the beans, then stock. Bring the soup to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice to taste and taste again for salt and pepper. I like the lemon subtle. The juice from one small lemon should be plenty – this is not lemon soup.

While the soup simmers, bring a medium pot of water to the boil. Add a tbsp of salt and blanch the kale for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

If I were you, here’s what I’d do.  (I am always guilty of overselling – sigh. I do hope you like this!)  If you have one, set a wide soup plate on the counter. Pour a glass of wine and leave it on the table where you plan to eat so that the flavors open up. Toast a piece of rustic bread by brushing it with olive oil and running it under the broiler. Don’t burn it and do toast both sides – it should be golden and crisp on the outside and almost creamy inside. Peel a clove of garlic and cut it in half. Rub the cut half over one side of the toast and put it in the soup plate. A handful of  blanched kale goes on the toast. Ladle soup over toast and kale until the bowl is brimming. Drizzle a tablespoon of pungent green olive oil over the top and grate parmesan cheese lightly over all of it. Take the soup plate and go sit with the glass of wine.  Take a deep breath – the fennel and garlic are the most forward. Then the warm scent of chicken stock. Pale and yielding cannellini beans contrast with deep green chewy kale. Something about the toast pushes me over the edge. Taste it. White Bean and Kale Soup is grown-up and sophisticated yet so mild and comforting it could be child’s food.

There you have it. My most favorite meal. (at the moment)




17 responses to “White Bean and Kale Soup, Fennel Variation: Part 2

  1. Joanna Beitel

    Roasting chicken and soaking beans today; making stock and soup tomorrow!

  2. Hooray! You have to tell me how it comes out!

  3. Joanna Beitel

    Soup was absolutely divine even though I overcooked the beans. Really the BEST SOUP EVER. I wish I could give a bowl to everyone in Japan. And Libya.

  4. Joanna Beitel

    The best thing about this soup was that my kids, i.e. The World’s Pickiest Children, both asked for EXTRA KALE. I nearly cried.

  5. Now I think I’m going to cry! Joanna – this makes me so happy! It is so great that you waded through all that writing to make the soup. My kids, Ali in particular, love it but I have to confess the kale is a tough sell. Good for you!

  6. OK, if Joanna can do it than I can do it. I LOVE soup but have never made my own stock. Did it today and am now soaking beans. Kitchen smells so good and family is looking forward to tomorrow nights dinner.

  7. Lara – I am SO happy to hear you are making this soup! Weirdly, this might be the recipe that the most people have tried – I thought it looked too overwhelming because it had to be written in two parts although, once you get started, it’s easy to see that the actual work is minimal! Especially, when the pay-off is so big 😉 I hope you and your family enjoy it and I would love to hear how it turns out!

  8. Karen Cooper

    doing it this week! already made stock!

  9. Okay – I am so thrilled that so many people are trying this soup! I have a question though, why THIS recipe?!?! I love it, but more than anything else I’ve written up, this soup, which is a two day or even three day commitment, has had so many more people willing to try the recipe! Is it the kale?!? Thoughts?

  10. This is simmering as we speak. No cannoli beans so used northern, FANTASTIC! Followed recipe to the letter but made gremolata w/parsley, parmesan, garlic and lemon rind to sprinkle on top. This will be a favorite “go to.” I think the appeal is low cal, high nutrient, low sodium, though that isn’t why I used it. I just like kale and fennel! Thanks

  11. Love gremolata! Next time I make this, I will add that for sure -thanks for a wonderful idea!

  12. Best soup ever as per my wife that i have ever made 🙂
    many thanks Sarah. you are the best.

  13. Hooray! I’m very pleased. that’s one of my favorites and it always makes me happy when people give it a try! 🙂

  14. I made this soup.
    My roommates stole it.
    I purposely made it with chicken bones from Costco chicken, bc they only eat organic, but that didn’t seem to bother them.
    They took it anyway.

  15. I’m sorry your roommates stole your soup. It’s time consuming. And even with Costco birds, I am sure it was still pretty delicious. I hope you made a huge batch of broth, then you can make it again 🙂

  16. ^
    Even with a Costco bird, it turned out fabulous!

    Maybe because I used a whole bird carcass, the stock was very gelatinous – I ended up using all of it, so it was very rich.

    Since I also used canned beans (the best I could find – it does make a difference) I didn’t really know how much to use, and realized later I should have used about four cans, not two.

    This week, round two.

    Thanks so much for this great recipe – I email my favorites, so I’ll be able to duplicate, wherever I’m with the ones I love!

  17. So….how about soaking your own beans!?! It’s pretty easy and once you get into the habit, you won’t look back. I think you’ll notice a big difference 😉

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