Fretwell (Italian Vegetable) Soup

I just finished reading a really great book: “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg. Lately reading a whole book takes me a long time, but I read this book in 3 nights! I couldn’t put it down! At the end of each chapter is a mouthwatering-sounding recipe, and this is the first one I tried. To be fair, I shopped for the ingredients for this soup in the midst of a blizzard here (on the East Coast), and the store where I shopped was out of several things, so I had to make some substitutions. Instead of the Swiss chard I had to use spinach. Instead of the Great Northern beans I had to use navy beans (canned). Are those the same kind of beans? Instead of the green cabbage, I had to use purple, and not much of it (is there an easy way to chop cabbage?). This soup was ok, but it was a lot of work (to me), and when I spend a lot of time chopping and dicing, I want the end result to be spectacular! Toby said that it was ok, but had a lot of “interlopers”, meaning veggies he didn’t like (carrots, zucchini). Oh well. But I DO plan on trying more of her recipes.

rating: 6

Fretwell (Italian Vegetable) Soup
(“A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table”, Molly Wizenberg)

*Consider yourself warned: this recipe makes a veritable cauldron of soup. If you don’t have a stockpot that can hold twelve quarts or so, do this in two batches, or halve the recipe.


1 ½ lbs. dried cannellini or Great Northern beans
Olive oil
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves
1 or 2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
2 or 3 medium yellow onions, chopped
8 medium carrots, sliced into ¼-inch coins
5 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced into ¼-inch crescents
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced into ¼-inch half-circles
1 bunch red Swiss chard, washed, dried, and sliced
½ head green cabbage, cored and chopped roughly
1 quart vegetable broth (I used Imagine brand)
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, juices reserved and tomatoes chopped roughly



Soak the beans overnight. The next day, drain them, put them into a large pot, add water to cover by 2 inches, and cook, with sage and garlic, for about one hour. As the beans cook, skim off any white foam that rises to the surface, and halfway through their cooking time, add ½ Tbs salt.

Heat 2 or 3 Tbs olive oil in a large soup pot, add onions, carrots, and celery, and sauté for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, salting lightly, and adding more oil if necessary. Add the zucchini and the vegetable broth, cover, and bring mixture to a simmer. Then add Swiss chard, cabbage, tomatoes, and tomato juices. Cover the pot, and simmer over low heat for half an hour or so. Add the beans and their cooking water, salt to taste, and simmer, covered, over low heat for one hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve over slices of day-old crusty bread, and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil if you like.

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3 Responses to Fretwell (Italian Vegetable) Soup

  1. Sounds really good and looks really good..maybe if you make it again you can try and make it without substitues and see if it taste different. maybe you’ll like it more.

  2. peppertree says:

    Agreed. I don’t think I gave it a fair shot. 🙂

  3. Mary Jane Hislip Mitchell says:

    Hi there, I already had this soup going and was curious about what others said about it. I made it without substitutions and it really was wonderful. I think cooking the beans from scratch with the sage and garlic makes the difference!

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