Kale Broth with Lemon Zest and Parmesan

Kale, the mention of the name is enough to wrinkle many a face in disgust. What a shame, because kale is fantastic. Boiled until soft, and pureed with a grating of nutmeg and a splash of cream, it is one of the best winter vegetables. Cooked again until soft, drained and dressed with olive oil and lemon, it is also marvellous, particularly when served on grilled bread that has been lightly rubbed with a little garlic. You can introduce it to chilli, garlic, Indian spices, south east Asian flavours, Spanish smoked paprika and chorizo and you aren’t even beginning to scratch the surface of the flavours it will marry with. Its winter seasonality also seems to add to its charm as it doesn’t have much green competition and it almost stands alone in the coldest months as the bearer of badly needed vitamins and iron.

For the gardener, it is a thing of beauty as its tiered, plumage like foliage, looks almost like an exotic in the winter garden. Viewed under snow or frost on a clear sunny morning, its handsome bearing rivals anything in the garden at any time of the year.

The trick with kale is to cook it enough. It needs to be soft and comforting. If you want crisp, have a carrot stick. You are not being clever by undercooking it. It will be tough and more like fodder and your family and friends will not thank you for it.

Subtle seasoning is required here when finishing the broth the get a good balance between the salt, lemon and parmesan. Too much lemon zest or parmesan will over power. Think of the lemon and parmesan as added seasonings as you sprinkle it on, so go with a light hand and careful tasting.

As always with the addition of any green vegetable to a broth or soup, once the greens go in the saucepan lid stays off.

  • The kale in this recipe can be one of several varieties. The most easily available variety which starts to appear in the shops around October is the dense and compact Curly Kale. You can also use Cavolo Nero, with its long slightly sinister looking plume like leaves. It is sometimes called Tuscan Kale or Nero di Toscana. Watch out for other varieties such as the Red Russian kale with its serrated leaves. All of these kales become sweeter and more tender after the first frosts.
  • Try and get an unwaxed lemon for this recipe. Failing that, scrub the lemon well before grating off the zest
  • Parmesan cheese always tastes best when freshly grated off a larger piece. Pre-grated parmesan in my experience is not great and if I could only get that I would just leave it out. Dont spoil all your hard work by adding a substandard ingredient.

Serves 4-6

The ingredients

  •  50g butter
  •  175g potatoes, peeled and cut into neat 1cm / ½ in dice
  •  175g onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste
  •  1.2l chicken stock
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  600ml of curly kale leaves, measured after removing the stalks and gently torn into small bite sized pieces
  • The finely grated zest of 1 lemon (you may not need it all)
  •  1oz grated parmesan


  1. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and allow to foam. Add the potatoes, onions and chopped garlic cloves. Coat in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper or greaseproof paper and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook on a very low heat to allow the vegetables to sweat gently until barely tender. This will take about 10 minutes. Don’t overcook and allow the diced potato to collapse. Add the stock, stir gently and bring to a simmer and cook for a further 10 minutes. The broth should be barely bubbling. If it cooks too fast at this stage, the delicacy of flavour of the chicken stock will be lost. By now the potato and onion should be completely tender but still holding their shape. Taste and correct seasoning. This is the base and can be put aside until later.
  2. To finish the broth, bring the base back to a simmer. Add the kale and allow to  cook very gently uncovered until quite soft. This can take up to 7 minutes. Taste a little of the kale when you think it is ready to be certain it is really soft and comforting. Taste and correct seasoning and ladle the soup into hot soup bowls. Season each serving with a pinch of the lemon zest and 1 heaped teaspoon of grated parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.