Old-fashioned Italian Zuppa Di Cavolo or Italian cabbage and bean soup is a classic budget-friendly soup that is perfect for delicious, inexpensive and nutritious meat-free meals. You won't feel like your budgeting with a bowl of this impressive looking Italian veggie packed soup.
The beauty of Zuppa Di Cavolo is that it can be adapted to whatever you have to hand, such as any variety of cabbage or kale, any cooked pulse, any type of potato. Any herbs or veggies you have to hand can be popped into the bubbling soup pot to create a quick hearty family meal.
Origin of Zuppa Di Cavolo [Cabbage and Bean Soup]
Zuppa is an Italian word and refers to soup wheres Cavolo translates to cabbage.
Since at least medieval times Italy has enjoyed delicious traditional peasant and farmhouse style soups and stews that are perfect for meat-free, vegan, vegetarian and plant-based cooking. Although as most peasant soups rarely contained meat due to its expense, they would more than likely already be vegan by necessity.
Zuppa di Cavolo or cabbage soup has many different variations and adaptations as throughout the years it would depend on whatever the cook had available that would dictate the final cabbage and bean soup. In Tuscany, for example, a popular variant is "ribollita," a robust vegetable soup made with cabbage, beans, and stale bread. Versions with additional meats or different varieties of cabbage may be encountered in northern areas.
In Italy cabbage is more likely to refer to Tuscan kale, black Italian cabbage, Calvo Nero kale or even Dinosaur kale! Whereas in the UK cabbage refers more to the white Dutch cabbage variety, or the green leafy Savoy cabbage, or even the red cabbage variety. Although all types of kale and cabbage belong to the same Brassicaceae family of veggies.
As cabbages are relatively easy to cultivate, provide valuable nutrition and tend to be inexpensive, including cabbage within soups and stews was and still is an incredibly popular humble inexpensive meal. It is just as easy to simmer up a huge pot of cabbage soup to feed a hungry crowd, as it is to just prepare a small pot suitable for one or two happy companions.
The Ancient Roman writer Cato the Elder preached the medicinal benefits of cabbage and claimed that the humble cabbage was nutritional superior compared to other veggies.
Whenever you or a loved one is feeling under-the-weather, then a hot bowl of comforting, nourishing, and huggable Italian style cabbage and bean soup is just the ticket as it provides a tasty, warm and satisfying pick-me-up.
Vegan Zuppa Di Cavolo
This vegan recipe for Zuppa Di Cavolo contains onions, carrots, leeks, bell pepper, courgettes [zucchini] celery, kale or cabbage, beans, peas, tomatoes, and potatoes. But its worth noting, especially if you enjoy food history like me!, that early Italian soups before the 18th Century may not have contained potatoes.
When did potatoes arrive in Italy?
The potato, originally native to South America, was brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the late 16th century. However, its acceptance and widespread cultivation took quite some time.
In Italy, the potato was initially met with skepticism and was often used as animal feed or grown as a botanical curiosity. It wasn't until the late 18th century that potatoes started to become a more common part of the Italian diet. Famines, wars, and food shortages contributed to the potato's increased usage as it is a hardy crop and can provide substantial nutrition.
The potato has since become a staple in many traditional Italian dishes, including gnocchi and various soups and stews. Despite its late arrival, it's hard to imagine Italian cuisine without it today.
What about cabbage when did it arrive in Italy?
Cabbage has been cultivated for thousands of years and was well-known to ancient civilizations. In Italy, cabbage and its close relatives, like kale, have been grown and used in cooking since Roman times.
The Romans were known to cultivate several varieties of cabbage, including types similar to kale and collard greens.
What kind of beans would have been in medieval Italian bean and cabbage soup?
Beans have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years and were well-known to the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean. Archaeological evidence shows that various types of beans were grown and consumed in ancient Rome, including broad beans (fava beans), chickpeas, lentils, and peas.
The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), which includes varieties like kidney beans, navy beans, and pinto beans, is native to the Americas and was brought to Europe after the Columbian Exchange, which began in the late 15th century. So, these types of beans would not have been present in Italy during the medieval period.
During the Middle Ages, the most commonly consumed beans in Italy were likely the ones that were known to the Romans, especially broad beans. Broad beans were easy to grow and provided a valuable source of protein, making them a staple food for the lower classes. They were also used as animal feed and were believed to have various medicinal properties.
With the arrival of the common bean from the New World, the Italian diet and cuisine expanded to incorporate these new varieties, and today, beans of all types are used in a wide range of traditional Italian dishes.
However, if you would like to prepare a medieval Italian bean and cabbage soup then perhaps stick to broad beans for a more authentic soup!
What about tomatoes?
The tomato is native to South America and was brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the early 16th century. However, it was not immediately accepted as a food source. Early Europeans were suspicious of the brightly colored fruit, believing it to be poisonous due to its similarity to some toxic plants. In fact, the tomato is a member of the nightshade family, which does include some poisonous species.
In Italy, the tomato was first used as a decorative plant and it wasn't until the late 17th to early 18th century that it began to make its way into Italian cuisine. The first documented evidence of tomatoes being used in Italian cooking comes from Antonio Latini's cookbook "Lo Scalco alla Moderna" (The Modern Steward), published in Naples in 1692.
By the late 18th century, tomatoes had become a common ingredient in Italian cooking, particularly in the southern regions. Today, it's hard to imagine Italian cuisine without the tomato. From pasta sauces to pizzas, the tomato has become a staple in Italian dishes.
How to prepare Italian Cabbage and bean soup
This Zuppa di Cavolo soup may have an exotic sounding name but it is packed with wholesome everyday ingredients which can be easily subbed for what you have to hand, in season veggies, and perhaps any reduced price veggies you can find in the supermarket. Serve with ripped up crusty bread chunks [stale bread is perfect] for a satisfying, comforting and warming meal.
Saute the onions, leeks, celery and garlic in oil, vegan margarine or ½ cup of veggie stock for 4-5 minutes.
Add the carrots, bell pepper, and courgette and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
Chuck in the potatoes and give it all a good stir.
Next tip in the drained canned beans, and pour in the tomato passata [or canned diced tomatoes].
Add a sprig of rosemary or your choice of fresh or dried herbs.
Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the veggies are soft.
Next stir through the kale and simmer for 4-5 minutes.
Finally pop in the peas, along with the red wine vinegar, and simmer for a few minutes.
Optional: Garnish with fresh parsley and basil.
Serve with pieces of crusty bread or place torn bread pieces into each serving bowl and ladle the thick hearty soup over.
Recipe notes and FAQS
Storage, freezing and reheating
Store leftover soup within a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Or store within a freezer for 4-6 months.
Defrost before reheating either on the stove-top or within a microwave.
To reheat soup on the stove-top, place into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add extra water or veggie stock to the soup if it has become very thick. Once boiling lower the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes until the soup is piping hot throughout.
Alternatively place the soup into a microwave safe dish and reheat until piping hot. Stop the microwave and give the soup a stir at least once during reheating.
Of course, as with any good recipe do feel free to tailor the ingredients to your own preferences and for whatever produce is available.
A few suggestions:
* cabbage or kale can be replaced with any green leafy variety including Tuscan kale, Calvo Nero, savoy cabbage, white cabbage, spring greens, collard greens, turnip greens, Swiss chard, spinach, etc. Although do keep in mind the cooking differences for different greens, such as spinach will only require a few minutes cooking or even just a few seconds of wilting in the soup before serving.
* replace the courgette with an extra green bell pepper or an extra celery rib
* use sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes
* any variety of cooked bean can be used, so just use what is easily available
* canned diced tomatoes can replace the tomato passata, or blend up whole fresh tomatoes
* a few teaspoons of garlic powder or granules can be subbed for the fresh garlic
* instead of fresh onions use a few teaspoons of dried onion for a great depth of flavour
* add any fresh herbs you like to the cooking pot such as thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, bay, dill, fennel, etc
Fresh Herbs: Parsley, basil, or thyme can add a fresh, vibrant note.
Nutritional Yeast: This gives a cheese-like flavor that can substitute for the Parmesan often used in non-vegan versions.
Olive Oil: A drizzle of good quality olive oil just before serving can add richness and depth.
Toasted Breadcrumbs: These can give a nice crunchy texture.
Home-made croutons: [check out our easy crouton recipe over on the cream of swede [rutabaga] soup post. Croutons are perfect for using up stale bread, use an air-fryer if available instead of the oven to save energy costs].
Crackers: simply crumble the crackers over each portion for a tasty crunch.
Roast Chickpeas: [easy recipe over on our curried cauliflower soup post]
Lemon Zest: This can brighten up the soup and balance the hearty flavors.
Chili Flakes: If you like a bit of heat, a sprinkle of red chili flakes can be a nice touch.
Vegan Parmesan: There are many recipes available online for making your own vegan Parmesan, usually involving ground nuts and nutritional yeast.
This hearty soup is a meal-in-itself but if you are serving it for a special dinner or for extra hungry people here are a few ideas:
Crusty Bread: A slice of warm, crusty bread is perfect for sopping up any leftover soup. Try our easy rustic Irish Wheaten Bread recipe. You could also serve it with garlic bread or bruschetta for added flavor.
Focaccia: This flavorful Italian bread can be an excellent complement to your soup. You can even customize it with your favorite toppings, such as rosemary, olives, or caramelized onions.
Salad: A fresh, crisp salad can balance the heartiness of the soup. Try a simple mixed greens salad with a vinaigrette, or an Italian-style salad with olives, tomatoes, and a tangy dressing. Or our easy, creamy and fruity traditional Waldorf Salad.
Grilled Polenta: Grilled or broiled slices of polenta can be a satisfying, gluten-free alternative to bread.
Pasta: A light pasta dish, perhaps with a garlic and olive oil sauce, could be a good match.
Stuffed Bell Peppers: Bell peppers stuffed with a mixture of rice, vegetables, and herbs can be a tasty and satisfying side dish.
Risotto: A simple, creamy risotto could pair nicely with the soup. A vegetable-based risotto is delicious with a mushroom or butternut squash base.
Antipasti Platter: An assortment of marinated vegetables, olives, vegan cheeses, and breadsticks could make for a light and varied accompaniment.
Quinoa Salad: A quinoa salad with fresh vegetables and a tangy dressing can offer a refreshing contrast to the hearty soup.
Pizza Bianca: A simple white pizza with garlic, olive oil, and vegan cheese could be a lovely accompaniment.
Dessert: For dessert, consider something light and refreshing, like sorbet or fresh fruit, vegan Tiramisu, or this quick no-bake Tofu Chocolate Pudding, to cleanse the palate.
Yes, Italian cabbage and bean soup is perfect for gluten-free diets with a few considerations.
Simply ensure that your veggie broth is free from gluten ingredients, and if bread is used then choose a gluten-free variety.
Some vinegars are not suitable for a gluten-free diet but the wine vinegars are generally considered safe for gluten-free diets. However, its best to check the ingredients and label just to be sure.
More vegan traditional, rustic, budget-friendly soups:
We absolutely love hearty rustic peasant-style soups! So we usually have a pot on the go most days to enjoy for a budget-friendly lunch or even for dinner along with a tasty sandwich. We've listed a few of the soups we like best below but really we love all the soups on offer here on our blog so do have a look at all our soup recipes to find your new favourite.
Some of our current favourites is this Traditional Scottish Hotchpotch Soup which is really a delicious jumble of veggies! And this Orcadian Oatmeal Soup which may have Viking connections! And this deeply savoury and homely Traditional Welsh Cawl Soup and my kids favourite this hearty wholesome Peawack Soup from Liverpool!
If you love hearty Italian peasant style soups then do try our 3 Bean Minestrone Soup recipe which is the perfect recipe to have to hand for those times when you just don't know what to cook!
***please note: for US measurements click the 'US customary button' within the recipe and the measurements will switch to tablespoons, cups, and ounces.***
Italian Cabbage and Bean Soup [Zuppa Di Cavolo]
- large soup pot [stove-top Dutch oven or similar pot]
- 2 tablespoon oil such as olive or rapeseed oil, or vegan butter/margarine or ½-¾ cup veggie stock
- 1 large onion rough diced
- 6 whole garlic cloves diced [minced]
- 1 medium leek thin sliced
- 2 ribs celery diced
- 1 whole bell pepper small-medium chunks
- 1 medium courgette [zucchini] rough chopped into small-medium chunks
- 2 medium carrots small-medium chunks
- 300 grams potatoes small-medium chunks
- 400 mililitres tomato passata or 1 ½-2 400g/14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
- 1.5 litres vegetable stock hot [use a few cups extra if a thinner soup is preferred]
- 1 400 gram can borlotti beans drained, [about 1 ½ cups cooked beans] or pinto beans, kidney beans, etc
- 1 400 gram can cannellini beans drained [about 1 ½ cups cooked beans] or butterbeans, haricot beans, etc
- 1 sprig rosemary or thyme, or 1-3 teaspoons of dried rosemary, thyme or mixed herbs
- 250 grams kale or any variety of cabbage, chopped and thick stalks removed
Add for last 5 minute of cooking:
- 140 grams peas fresh or frozen
- 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
To serve, optional
- 6 slices crusty bread torn into rough chunks
- 4 tablespoon fresh chopped herbs such as basil, parsley, dill, etc
- Heat the oil or ½ cup of veggie stock in the soup pan.2 tablespoon oil
- Add the onions, leeks, celery, and garlic. Over a medium heat saute for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently.1 large onion, 1 medium leek, 2 ribs celery, 6 whole garlic cloves
- Add the bell pepper, courgette, and carrot. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stir frequently.1 whole bell pepper, 1 medium courgette [zucchini], 2 medium carrots
- Tip in the potatoes and give it a good mix.300 grams potatoes
- Stir through the beans, tomato passata, and hot veggie stock.Add the rosemary or an alternative fresh herb or dried herbs.Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper.400 mililitres tomato passata, 1 400 gram can borlotti beans, 1 400 gram can cannellini beans, 1.5 litres vegetable stock, 1 sprig rosemary
- Bring to the boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the veggies are soft.
- Next mix through the kale or cabbage and cook for 4-10 minutes, depending on the size of kale or cabbage pieces and how soft you prefer your kale or cabbage.250 grams kale
- Add the peas and red wine vinegar. Cook for a few minutes longer.140 grams peas, 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the rosemary sprig.The soup will be nice and thick but if preferred thin it out with an extra cup or two of hot veggie stock.
- Optional: Place the torn up pieces of crusty bread into the bowls or serve the bread on the side for dunking into the soup.6 slices crusty bread
- Ladle the soup over the bread.
- Garnish with fresh herbs. A sprinkle of nutritional yeast flakes is also tasty. A little drizzle of olive oil can be added if liked.4 tablespoon fresh chopped herbs
- Nutritional information is provided for guidance only and is not a strict calculation as ingredients vary.
- Nutritional data does not include the optional bread accompaniment or the herb garnish.
- Store leftover soup within the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Or freeze for 2-3 months.
- Defrost completely before reheating on the stove-top or within a microwave.
- Reheat until piping hot throughout.
- For gluten-free Italian bean and cabbage soup choose a gluten-free veggie broth and ensure that the red wine vinegar is free from gluten [which it usually is].
- Any variety of cabbage is fine for this recipe including Tuscan kale, red kale, Calvo Nero, white cabbage, green cabbage, Savoy cabbage, Spring greens [young or early cabbage], etc. Red cabbage can also be used and will create an interesting and tasty soup.
Thank you for trying out our Italian Bean And Cabbage Soup! We hope you enjoyed making and savoring it as much as we do.
If you tried this recipe, please let us know in the comments below how it turned out for you, or if you made any modifications.
If you share your creations on social media, don't forget to tag us (@traditionalplantbasedcooking) and use the hashtag #traditionalplantbasedcooking, so we can see your scrumptious dishes!
Lastly, if you found this recipe helpful, please share it with your friends and family, so they can enjoy it too.
Thank you, and happy cooking!
Love, Jacq x