There is elegance in simplicity. Chopping an onion. Smashing garlic against a cutting board. Ladling hot broth over a piece of bread.
At its most elemental, cooking soup is the art of wooing flavor out of a pot of water. If soup is an antidote against civilization and its discontents, then bread and cabbage soup is the plain truth. Uncomplicated and unpretentious, it uplifts and nourishes the soul, providing comfort against hard times and cold weather. It is a pas de deux between fire and water, onion and garlic, bread and cabbage. It is a celebration of simplicity.
Soup, however, can be a hard sell in our household. My vegetarian daughter wants nothing to do with vegetables, grains, or legumes floating in water. And my son’s idea of a vegetable is a potato or a carrot. My wife and I actively participate in willful acts of omission when asked what’s in a pureed soup. Does our son really need to know that we’re advancing civilization by camouflaging cauliflower or broccoli? My daughter’s wink lets us know that she, too, is a willful participant in our sleight of hand. It never hurts to have one of your kids on your side.
So, why did I think I could sell them on eating bread and cabbage soup? I didn’t. I planned on serving them pizza that was leftover from dinner the previous night. The soup was for my wife and I. Soup and salad. I had a head of cabbage in the refrigerator and leftover four-grain bread waiting for me on the cutting board. I turned on the oven to reheat the pizza and thought why waste an opportunity to roast garlic to squeeze on the bread. We were good to go.
I warmed slices of bread topped with garlic paste and grated mozzarella cheese. When the pizza was hot I called my kids to the dinner table. I thought I needed to have my hearing checked when my daughter asked if she could try my soup. And checked again when my son also requested a taste. “This is really good. Can I have a bowl?” my daughter asked. “Can I have one, too?” my son chimed in, seconding her motion.
Bread and Cabbage Soup
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic
½ head green cabbage, cored and coarsely chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
6-7 cups of stock or water
bread (preferably leftover or day-old)
cheese (I used mozzarella, but any cheese will do)
salt and pepper, to taste
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally for 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Add the cabbage, cover, and cook until the cabbage has wilted. Add the stock or water (I used water and added left over tomato broth from canned tomatoes that I used for pizza sauce). Lower the heat and simmer about 10-15 minutes. Toast slices of bread and melt cheese on top of each slice. Place each slice in a soup bowl and ladle soup over.
I kept it very simple. If you want, you can also arrange layers of bread, cheese, cabbage and broth in a casserole and bake in a 350° oven until the cheese has melted and the crust is golden (about 15 minutes). Then ladle into soup bowls and serve.