2019

RED ONION, KALE, MARJORAM AND BACON BROTH WITH GRILLED PARMESAN CROUTON

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

175g rind-less streaky bacon, cut into neat lardons

420g red onions, peeled and cut into neat wedges

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1500ml chicken stock

270g kale leaves weighed after de-stalking, pulled into bite-sized pieces 

2 tablespoons marjoram or 1 teaspoon thyme leaves

4-6 sliced or sourdough bread or baguette

4 tablespoons grated parmesan

A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Method

This is a robust and delicious broth that is almost a meal in a bowl. There is something about a broth made with a good bone stock, in this case chicken, that seems to immediately nourish and comfort. The quality of your stock is of paramount importance to ensure a deep and sweet flavour. I would happily use a stock made with turkey or duck bones in place of the chicken.

For most of the cooking time, I like the broth to simmer gently so as not the concentrate the flavour of the stock too much thereby throwing out the balance of flavours. The kale should be torn into small bite sized pieces so as they are comfortable to eat and the marjoram needs last minute chopping , as if chopped in advance it will quickly oxidize and loose its sweet taste. Even though the appearance of this and indeed other broths is rather rustic, I still find that with the last minute additions of freshly grated parmesan and a grassy olive oil, it is elevated to a rather sophisticated level.

I sometimes replace the kale in the recipe with green cabbage leaves or florets of broccoli or romanesco.

Broths should arrive at the table steaming hot as they really are not great when somewhat tepid. I  like having to wait for a moment for the broth to cool just a little, or the rather old fashioned habit of genteelly blowing on your spoon before eating.  In the past, it seems our recent forebears generally liked most hot foods to be steaming hot, though this was certainly to the detriment of some dishes such as roast meats whose charm perished when introduced to red hot plates and boiling gravy. Mind you, there are many stories of the occupants of very grand houses where the kitchen was often a good jog from the dining room, being surprised when eating their first “hot” meal in less elevated surroundings. The journey along freezing corridors rather sucked the heat from many a smart dish. There was a hopeful practicality to the grand silver cloches of yore designed not just as a highly polished piece of dining room bling, but an often vain attempt to simply keep the food hot. 

In our contemporary homes of a rather more compact nature and improved insulation, it is easier to achieve perfect temperatures. 

 

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan and add the bacon lardons. Cook over a moderate heat allowing the fat to render out and the bacon to turn golden brown. Stir them every now and then to ensure even colouring. Remove the bacon pieces from the rendered fat and reserve.

 Add in the onions and garlic and toss in the fat. Season with salt and pepper and cover with a disc of grease-proof paper and the saucepan lid. The dual combination of paper and lid will create the steamy atmosphere the onions need to cook **** on a very gentle heat allowing the onions to sweat for about 30minutes until nearly softened. 

Remove the saucepan and paper lid and increase the heat to high for just two minutes. I find this brief cooking over high heat adds a little caramel flavour to the onions.  Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and continue cooking again very gently until the onions are completely tender. All of the time you are trying to keep the onion wedges intact, though it is by no means a disaster if they come apart.

The broth can be put aside now until later.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and season with salt. Drop in the kale and cook briefly until wilted and just tender. Strain and press off excess water though there is no need to be too heavy handed as a little kale cooking water will not impact adversely on the broth. Add the kale and the reserved bacon lardons to the broth, stir well and bring to a simmer. Taste and correct seasoning.

When ready to serve, grill or toast the bread allowing it to gain plenty of colour. Place one piece of bread in deep and hot soup bowls. Chop the marjoram and sprinkle over the bread. 

Pour over the broth and finish each bowl with a scattering of parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serve immediately.