Cranberry Bean and Cabbage Soup with Kale Pesto

Rancho Gordo Dried Heirloom Cranberry Beans

So much of a person’s success is dependent on relationships and help from others you meet on the path. From the beginning, Brian Streeter, resident chef at Cakebread Cellars, and the whole Cakebread family have supported the idea and reality of Rancho Gordo. Brian, and especially Karen Cakebread (now with her own Ziata Wines), made sure I was part of the American Harvest Workshop and always found clever ways to expose Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans to new chefs and food writers.

Brian recommends a glass of Cakebread Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir with this soup.

Serves 6

  • 1 cup Cranberry or Good Mother Stallard beans
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 2 yellow onions, minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, diced
  • 2 cups peeled and chopped plum tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine
  • 11/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 loaf ciabatta or other coarse country bread (about 1/4 pound)

For the pesto:

  • 1 small bunch dinosaur kale
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated pecorino romano cheese
  • Pinch of salt


  1. To cook the beans, pick over, rinse, and then soak the cranberry beans for 4–6 hours. Transfer the beans and their soaking water to a saucepan and add more water if necessary to cover the beans by 11/2 inches. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 1 hour. Add 2 teaspoons salt, stir well, and remove from the heat.
  2. To prepare the soup, heat a large pot over high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta starts to crisp, about 2 minutes. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, 2–3 minutes. Add the garlic, parsley, and cabbage and cook for about 2 minutes longer to wilt the cabbage. Add the tomatoes, wine, and sugar, stir well, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the beans and their broth, the chicken broth, and the bay leaf and simmer slowly for 10 minutes to blend the flavors.
  3. While the soup is cooking, preheat the oven to 375°F. Tear the bread into large pieces, put them on a baking sheet, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and toss to coat evenly. Toast in the oven until lightly browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.
  4. When the soup is ready, stir the toasted bread into the soup and continue cooking until the bread swells and starts to thicken the soup, 5–10 minutes longer. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. To prepare the pesto, remove the central rib from each kale leaf, then roughly chop the leaves; you should have about 2 cups packed chopped leaves. Put the kale in a food processor and add the garlic, nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, cheese, and salt and process until smooth. (You will have more pesto than you need for garnishing the soup; the leftover pesto will keep in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
  6. Ladle the soup into warmed individual bowls. Top each serving with a spoonful of pesto and serve immediately.
Basic Instructions for Cooking Beans in The Rancho Gordo Manner