Spicy Tuscan Borlotti Bean, Tomato and Cavolo Nero Soup

During the summer months, when it rains in Assisi, it pours. Literally. Narrow Medieval streets turn into warm fast-moving rivers as the water gushes down from the top of the hilltop town to the very bottom. I remember very clearly once standing atop the Rocca Maggiore, the ruined castle which has dominated, for more than eight hundred years, the citadel of Assisi and the valley of Tescio hundreds of feet below. It was clear to see the storm coming in from far away. “We should go down” I said “we’ll get soaked”, but the spectacle of the angry black clouds rolling in as they flashed with lightening was too bewitching to leave. Finally, at the very last minute, we ran into down and fell into one of our favourite cafes whereupon we ordered two steaming bowls of this totally restorative soup served with freshly baked rustic bread and local olive oil. I swear that we could actually feel it warming our souls but that may have been the bottle of Sportoletti Rosso we had with it (for strictly medicinal purposes of course) as we waited for the warm sun to return to our faces.

Borlotti Bean Stew


1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, leaves picked
1-2 tsp chilli paste (I use Calabrian pate di peperoncini but harissa works well here)
600ml vegetable stock
400g tin chopped tomatoes, drained
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns
400g tin borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
150g cavolo nero, tough stalk removed and finely shredded
30g Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Dried chilli flakes, for garnishing (optional)

How I make it

Place a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add the olive oil, the onion, carrot, celery and thyme. Sautée for five minutes, stirring all the time. Then add the chilli paste and stir in for a further minute.

Add the stock and tomatoes to the pan. Season well, partially cover and allow the lot to simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cavolo nero and beans and simmer for another five minutes. Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste.

Turn into pretty dishes and sprinkle with cheese and chilli flakes (if using). Serve with a little bowl of the chilli paste on the side and plenty of fresh sourdough.

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