This makes enough for a crowd! You can halve the quantity if you like, or make the full amount and freeze some. A soup like this is even better the day after making, and will keep up to 3 days in the fridge. Lots of options!
It's easy to make a vegetarian or vegan option – see Recipe Notes at end of recipe.
Bacon hock and broth 1 bacon hock 2 bay leaves, sprigs of thyme and parsley stalks 1.5 litres cold water (US about 3 pints / UK about 2½ pints) Soup 2 Tbsp olive oil 2 leeks, trimmed, halved, washed well, then thickly sliced 3 large carrots, peeled and thickly sliced 3 sticks celery, well washed and thickly sliced 3 bay leaves Good handful fresh thyme, leaves only 200g (about 7 oz) cavolo nero 1 medium swede, peeled and cut into thick chunks (optional) 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks 1 buttercup pumpkin (about 800g / 1½ lb), halved, seeds removed, cut into large chunks, skin removed 3 parsnips, peeled and thickly sliced 2 large thick brown mushrooms, wiped with paper towels, thickly sliced 1 cup barley (rinse thoroughly in a sieve under running cold water just before adding to soup) 5 litres of water (US about10 pints / UK about 9 pints) Parmesan rinds, wiped clean and cut into chunks (optional) Extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated parmesan for serving (optional)
1 For the bacon hock and broth, rinse bacon hock and put in a large saucepan with the herbs. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, partially cover pan with a lid and cook gently for 2 hours. Remove bacon hock to a side plate, then strain stock through a sieve into a bowl. Skim off any fat from the surface.
2 Remove all meat from bacon hock while warm, discarding skin, fat and gristle. Chop meat coarsely, transfer to a bowl, cover and set aside (if preparing ahead, refrigerate meat as soon as it is cool).
3 For the soup, put oil, leeks, carrots and celery in a large soup or stock pan (about 7 litre capacity: US 14 pints / UK 12 pints) with bay leaves and thyme and 2 tablespoons of water. Cover pan with a lid and cook gently for about 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender; stir occasionally to make sure the vegetables are not catching.
4 Prepare the cavolo nero by washing it well, then running a sharp knife down either side of the tough centre ribs (discard the ribs). Coarsely chop leafy part.
5 Add cavolo nero and remaining vegetables, rinsed barley and water (if you can’t quite fit all the water in, keep some back and add it as the soup reduces), and parmesan rinds if using. Bring to a gentle bubble, then lower heat and cook partially covered with a lid for 1 hour or until vegetables are tender.
6 Add enough bacon hock broth to bring the vegetables to a soupy consistency (freeze any leftover). Add bacon meat. Reheat soup. Season generously with salt. If it tastes flat, swirl in more salt; you mustn’t be shy when it comes to seasoning a soup!
7 Serve drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of grated parmesan.
As the soup cooks, the pumpkin breaks down, thickening the soup and giving it an appetizing deep golden hue.
You can easily make a vegetarian version of this by omitting the bacon hock and broth which is cooked separately, and adding vegetable broth or stock to thin the soup at the end. However, commercially prepared versions are often weirdly herby and salty so it might be best to make your own vegetable stock with a base of lightly roasted vegetables.