White Bean and Kale Soup with Stale Bread "Croutons"

First off, I apologize for the worse-than-usual/actually pretty atrocious soup photo, and lack of photos plural. Posting this soup was really kind of an afterthought. I was in fact intending to write about experiments with kale, upon which I'll expound  in further detail in a sec. But before I do, I have only two quick things to say about this lovely, fragrant, and comforting soup: 1) You don't have to put bread in it, but if you do have some homemade bread that is getting stale, it's a wonderful way to make use of it, letting it soak up flavors and aromas and take on a warm, perfectly melting quality that falls deliciously short of being soggy; and 2) Speaking of bread, making this soup made me realize that having a bread maker has had the effect of reducing, rather than increasing, the quantity of bread and bread cravings in my life. I think that's because, having the easy option of fresh-baked, hearty loaves at our fingertips (with just a little extra effort) makes alternatives that much weaker in contrast. I find this comfortingly and delightfully ironic, and I had to share.
Now, quickly (in order to compensate for lack of pictures ), let's move on to kale, which seems destined to take the place of the pomegranate in my winter culinary explorations. It should go without saying, I love kale. Lauded as a super food for everything from its potency in lowering cancer risk (extended to no fewer than five types of cancer), to being anti-inflammatory and aiding digestion, kale's nutritional profile is incredible. It's said to be one of the healthiest vegetables out there, rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It's a huge source of vitamins K, C, and A; contains iron, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and at least 45 different flavanoids; and, that's just a small part of a lengthy list. Nevertheless, I have reservations about whether or not to include it in meals on a regular basis. Why? Because, Dave doesn't like it.
On second thought, I should rephrase that. Dave doesn't yet realize how much he loves kale. Especially when he doesn't realize it's kale he's eating. I wasn't aware until making this soup just how many varieties of kale there are out there, like lacinato (slightly crinkled), Scotch (curly), and  Russian (nearly flat leaves). I'm discovering that the subtleties in texture make a world of difference; I won't go into this further just now. In any case, for now, if kale happens to be mis-identified in the pot as "chard", or "collard greens", or something else believable, it doesn't cross my dear husband's mind that he might not be fond of what's in there.
White Bean and Kale Soup with Croutons
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes, divided
  • 2 cups homemade chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 bunch chopped kale, stems and coarse ribs removed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 15-ounce can white cannellini beans, washed and drained
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • dash pepper
  • 2 thick slices day-old/stale bread, cubed
  • cooking spray
  • *optional: roughly 1/2 cup grated cheese

1. Heat oil over medium heat. Add crushed garlic, and saute until fragrant, stirring continually. Add in dried sage and chile flakes and heat 1 minute.

2. Add stock/broth, water, kale, rosemary and thyme to the pot.  Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and  simmer 20 minutes. Stir in beans, tomatoes, salt and pepper, and continue to simmer a further 10 minutes.

3. While soup is simmering, prepare croutons. Spread cubed bread on a prepared baking sheet and spray lightly with cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, turning midway.

4.  Ladle soup into bowls, topping with bread and a sprinkling of shredded cheese.