One of my favorite soups for both warm weather and cold is caldo verde – Portuguese for, appropriately enough, “green soup”, a name that comes from copious amounts of thinly sliced leafy kale, giving it a deep green color in the bowl. It has a short, inexpensive ingredient list – consisting of olive oil, garlic, kale, potato, chicken stock and optionally cured pork – but it packs a lot of flavor. It’s hearty, garlicky, and intensely herbaceous from the greens, and goes great with warm, crusty bread.
Its been my go-to recipe for rainy fall nights for years, but the funny thing is, I have no idea where I learned to make it. The first time I got asked where I was introduced to the dish, I was stumped. I usually have a pretty good memory for where I first encountered a great rendition of a dish, but this one was just a blank. All I could think of to say was, “I’ve just always known how to make it.”
I theorized that I had been introduced to it by way of the dish’s cousin, Italian wedding soup. Essentially the same dish with orzo or pasta in place of potato, and a healthy dose of Parmesan cheese, it’s a likely suspect. So I asked my mom and dad if they had ever made wedding soup for me as a kid. They had no idea what I was talking about. They don’t know where I would have had caldo verde, either. It’s like I just…knew.
Regardless of how I learned to make it – out of body experience, past life regression, gestalt consciousness, what have you – it is a gift the aliens would want me to share with the world. If it was aliens. And I’m not saying it was aliens. But it might have been aliens, Scully.
Caldo verde hails from northern Portugal, but has spread to pretty much anywhere Portuguese people have put down roots, thanks to its easy-to-get ingredients, simple recipe, and awesome flavor. While the meat in this soup is optional, I strongly encourage anyone looking to prepare this dish to make the effort to acquire some linguica, a garlicky, spicy Portuguese smoked sausage. It will be worth it. To make your own, you will need the following:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or cooking oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced or smashed
1/2 a yellow onion, small diced
1 lb potatoes, either russet or Yukon Gold (I prefer the latter), peeled and cubed
1 bunch leafy greens, stems removed and leaves sliced into very thin strips; collard greens or lacinato kale are my favorites, but you could make it with curly kale, endive, green chard, etc and it will be fine
1/2 lb of cooked linguica, sliced into rounds. Alternately, use any smoked sausage or ham, or omit entirely, but it is best with linguica
3 pints poultry stock
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Minced fresh chives and flat leaf parsley for garnish
To make the soup, heat the butter or cooking oil in a large soup pot at medium-high heat. Add the onion, salt lightly to encourage sweating, and cook until soft and translucent, ~5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for ~1 minute, stirring regularly to prevent the garlic from burning.
Add the diced potatoes, another pinch of salt and fresh ground black pepper. Let the potatoes cook for a minute or two, then add the sliced greens and stock and bring the soup to a low boil before reducing it to a simmer. Let the soup simmer for ~15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, then take a large ladle or a potato masher and smush the potatoes in the soup until they break apart. Let the soup simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the potato has dissolved into the broth enough to give the soup a thick, creamy texture. Stir in your sliced sausage if you are including it, and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Taste the soup and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Before serving, sprinkle chives and/or minced parsley on each bowl of soup, and then finish each bowl with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with crusty bread and butter and enjoy.