Anyone who knows me knows this bedrock fact of my personality: I love anything that makes something big out of something apparently small. I loathe those dishes that include every conceivable expensive ingredient; I would have been hell at a Victorian dinner party, turning my nose up at everything but a dish of sauteed spinach, probably.
And one of the classic dishes that makes something out of practically nothing, the whole being way way way greater than the sum of its parts, is the Portuguese national soup Caldo Verde. Which boils, literally, down to this: Potatoes. Water. Cabbage.
Yep, that’s it.
I love it. I loved it when we were in Portugal, where they serve it with every possible meal. They use a special kind of cabbage over there, and the basic concept is you boil hell out of the potatoes until they puree themselves, then you shred the cabbage as thinly as you can (they sell specially shredded cabbage just for this in Portuguese markets), then right before you serve, dump the shreds into the boiling potato soup, cook quickly till done, not more than a few minutes, salt, generously pepper, and serve.
That’s the basic dish.
I do fiddle with it, enriching it a bit at home, but it’s still the same comforting, healthy, sustaining, economical dish it is in its homeland.
My version amps up the taste a bit. And I use my favorite kind of kale in place of the unobtainable Portuguese cabbage (though you can use regular drumhead cabbage, or other greens, as long as you sliver them as thinly as you can). My favorite kind of kale, of course, is called by various names: dinosaur kale, lacinato kale, black kale, Tuscan kale. That last is the result of the first few names not really making it from a marketing perspective.
My dear friend Teri—my accountant—and I have a joke about this. When you can’t sell something, call it Tuscan. She once sent me a picture of a billboard advertising a Tuscan mobile home park. In Oregon.
So if I can’t get you to make this soup when it’s called Potato and Kale soup, how about when it’s called Caldo Verde? You don’t really need me to call it Tuscan potato soup, do you? I will, though, if you want me to.
It doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you enjoy it after all.
Take about 4 to 6 russet potatoes. Peel, dice or slice anyway you want, add to water*, with two or more tablespoons of good olive oil, a minced onion, and a minced garlic clove or two. Boil hard to start with to combine the oil with the water, then turn down heat to medium. Cook to a fine mush, salting to taste. Feel free to mush the ingredients down to taste with a fork or big spoon or potato masher. Before serving, shred a bunch of Tuscan kale, destemmed, as thinly as you can manage. Add and boil for about three minutes till the kale is cooked. Add pepper to taste.
*about that water. It’s particularly good if it’s water that you’ve saved from cooking vegetables. (All those vitamins! Saved! Add flavor!) What I like to do is cook a vegetable hash for one dinner, parboiling the potatoes and greens for the sauteed hash in the same water, which, after they’re removed, I then leave on the stove overnight in its pot–don’t worry, it’s just veggie water; it won’t go bad–throwing the potatoes, onion and garlic for this soup in the next day for lunch. Only one pot! Two meals! You don’t even have to move it to the refrigerator! Save time, eat well! Another one of my many mottoes…