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Friday 30 April 2021

Italian Sourdough Bread and Cabbage Soup with Sage Butter

If you’ve been baking to your heart’s content through all the lockdowns, and are now wondering what to do with your leftover sourdough - I have a good suggestion for you – make it into this scrumptious Italian soup. This is a recipe adapted from the fab cookbook ‘Jamie at Home’ by Jamie Oliver. I have been making this soup since 2007 when I bought his book, but I have had to adapt it over the years, and I share my findings with you here.

This Italian soup is layered like a lasagne, with grilled slices of sourdough bread rubbed in raw garlic, cabbage and chicken stock. As it cooks, the bread plumps up just like a savoury Bread & Butter Pudding!

For me, the combination of 3 important ingredients with super high concentration of umami (glutamates) is what makes this soup so utterly special – anchovy, bacon and cheese (Cheddar/Parmesan).

Even the humble cabbage, you may be surprised to know, is a vegetable with good umami content (50mg/100g glutamates) adding its own flavour and richness to the dish. Cabbage is one of the most popular vegetables in Japanese cooking and at our home. I love it simply blackened under a very hot grill and then doused in Gomadare (a wonderfully creamy Japanese sesame dressing). Heavenly.

This is my adapted version of Jamie’s recipe:

Italian Bread and Cabbage Soup with Sage Butter


  • 3 litres of chicken or vegetable stock (Note A)
  • 2 Savoy cabbages, outer/harder stalks removed, washed and roughly cut (Note B)
  • 16-24 slices of stale sourdough bread (Note C)
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, unpeeled (Note D)
  • 90ml (6 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil + more for assembling the dish
  • 14 slices of pancetta or good quality smoked streaky bacon, sliced
  • 2x 50g tin of anchovy fillets in oil (100g in total)
  • 5 fresh rosemary sprigs, leaves picked out and very finely chopped (Note E)
  • 200g mature cheddar cheese, grated (Note F)
  • 150g Parmesan cheese + a little more for serving, grated
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 16-24 fresh sage leaves


1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. In a large pan, bring the stock to a boil, add the cabbage and cook for a few minutes until just softened. Remove the cabbage to a large bowl leaving the stock in the pan.

2. Toast all but 5-6 slices of sourdough breads on a hot griddle pan or in a toaster then rub them on one side with the garlic cloves and put aside. The untoasted slices will go on the top of the dish, so choose the best-looking ones and make sure they will cover the entire surface of your pan.

3. Next, heat a large 12cm deep oven proof casserole pan (I use a 26cm x 12cm cast iron pan) on a medium heat with the EVOO, add the pancetta or bacon and the anchovies, mix well. When the pancetta is golden brown and sizzling, add the rosemary and cooked cabbage and toss to coat the greens in all these wonderful flavours. Turn off the heat and transfer the mixture and all its juices into a large bowl.

4. You will need to have all the above ingredients grated, chopped or prepped and in separate bowls before assembling the dish. To assemble, we will do this as we would a lasagne. Cover the bottom of the pan with enough slices of toasted sourdough bread in one full layer. 

5. Spread over 1/3 of the cabbage leaf mixture, sprinkle over 1/4 of the grated cheddar and parmesan cheeses, and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Repeat this twice. Pour in all the juices remaining in the bowl and end with a layer of un-toasted bread on top, push down on the layers with your hands.

6. Pour the stock gently over the top until it just comes up to the top layer. Push down again and sprinkle over the remaining grated cheddar and parmesan cheeses. Add a good pinch of freshly ground black pepper and a final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven, uncovered, for around 30 minutes or until crispy and golden on top.

7. A couple of minutes before the soup comes out of the oven melt the butter in a small frying pan and quickly fry the sage leaves until they are just crisp and the butter is lightly golden, keep warm.

8. When the soup is ready divide it among the number of bowls needed. For presentation, I like topping each bowl of soup with a small piece of the toasted cheesy bread from the top layer, so apportion it wisely. Spoon a bit of the flavoured butter and sage leaves over the that and add another grating of parmesan. Enjoy!


A. Fresh, good quality stock is always the best option, but I have used Knorr cubes on numerous occasions for this recipe with similarly good results.

B. Jamies uses a mixute of 2/3 Savoy and 1/3 Cavolo Nero, I do too at times but if I only have Savoy in my fridge that is what I use. Cavolo Nero is harder than Savoy cabbage so soften them separately as they will cook at different speed. As for the roughly chopping, you want pieces of cabbages as opposed to chopping it to smidgens.

C. The number of slices will depend on the size of your bread and pan – I use a cast iron pan that is 26cm in diameter and 12cm in depth which takes about 20 slices and all other ingredients perfectly. You will want a good-looking pan to serve the soup at the table to your guests, the soup looks gorgeous straight out of the oven so choose an equally lovely pan.

D. Jamie calls for 1 garlic clove in his recipe which is far from being enough, I need about 5 at least, but in the unlikely event that you have any cloves leftover, just pop them in a bag and use them later for something else.

E. To avoid having hardy leaves of rosemary in your mouth when eating, do chop them finely. You will get more flavour out of them with none of the discomfort.

F. Jamie calls for Fontina cheese, though I was only able to find it a couple of times from specialist shops in the UK. Perhaps I haven’t been looking hard enough, but I find that cheddar is a great substitute here.

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