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The Secret to This Genius Soup? Treat it Like Lasagna

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If you love French onion soup, as I do, for the crouton—that magic of textures that happens when stale bread drinks up broth and cheese frizzles on top—then you’ve also probably wondered why you usually only get one in a bowl.

Jamie Oliver's Italian Bread and Cabbage Soup
Jamie Oliver's Italian Bread and Cabbage Soup

I get the value of restraint, of discipline and contrast. There is no good without evil; there is no crusty glory without a well of broth below. But another crouton or two isn’t going to hurt anybody, right?

No, absolutely not. And in this recipe, Jamie Oliver abandons any trace of deprivation, packing a Dutch oven with more many-textured pockets of molten bread and juicy broth and crags of gooey cheese than you could dream, if you dreamed in soup. Your crouton-loving heart will skip.

How? With inspiration from mountainous northern Italy near Switzerland, he builds this hearty pot of soup like lasagna, layering cheese and greens and garlic-rubbed slices of toast, before dumping the flavorful broth over the top and pressing down on top to help it all soak up. When you bake it, the whole thing will crisp on top and poof up like a souffle, as the bread softens and swells. In a completely unnecessary move, he tops it with sizzling sage leaves in brown butter.

Oliver—the Naked Chef—has never been terribly reserved. In fact, when I first fell for this recipe, I was a grad student interning at the Martha Stewart Show, watching Oliver run to and fro on set, acting as his own hype man to keep the audience giddy during breaks in shooting.

The flavors he uses to build this soup are similarly wild and exuberant: the salty smoke of pancetta, strong cheeses, roughly torn needles of rosemary, and—here's the kicker: an entire tin of anchovies. Two, actually.

“What if you don’t like anchovies?” Stewart asked on the show. Oliver answered fast: “You’ll have to trust me, or do another recipe.” And he’s right—what makes this broth so irresistible in so little time is the salty, meaty grip that only a good 20 to 25 fillets of anchovy could give it. I tried a version with half the anchovy and it was fine, but not nearly as compelling. Trust him. Don’t do another recipe.

Jamie Oliver's Italian Bread and Cabbage Soup

Jamie Oliver's Italian Bread and Cabbage Soup

Genius Recipes Genius Recipes
Serves 8
  • 3 quarts good-quality chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 Savoy cabbage, stalks removed, outer leaves separated, washed and roughly chopped
  • 2 big handfuls cavolo nero and/or kale, stalks removed, leaves washed and roughly chopped
  • 16 slices stale country-style or sourdough bread
  • 1 clove garlic, unpeeled, cut in 1/2
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
  • 14 slices pancetta or bacon
  • 1 (4-ounce) can (or two 2-ounce cans) anchovy fillets in oil, about 20-25 anchovy fillets
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked
  • 7 ounces fontina cheese, grated
  • 5 ounces freshly grated Parmesan, plus a little for serving
  • 1 pinch sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large knobs butter
  • 1 small bunch fresh sage, leaves picked
Go to Recipe

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps a genius dessert? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Tags: Soup, Tips & Techniques, Genius Recipes