Small, Good Things: Building a Better Garbure

By Joe Dizney

Enough already! The calendar says spring arrives next week, but last week’s snow and the slim pickings in the produce department at the supermarket say otherwise. We’re down to onions, carrots, turnips, potatoes, cabbage and the like — hardy roots and vegetable standbys and late-growers that can be stored for a while.

It’s also the time of year to clean out the freezer in anticipation of restocking once the bountiful season is firmly entrenched. Today’s icy treasure: a meaty, locally sourced ham hock gifted to me by a friend late last fall. It speaks loudly and says, “Beans!” but I want something more. A quick calculation: ham hock-plus-beans-plus-(onions, carrots, turnips, potatoes, cabbage) equals garbure.

Garbure is nominally the peasant bean soup or stew of southern France (particularly Gascony), a year-round dish designed to take advantage of whatever produce is available at the moment, making it an ideal great recipe for this lean time of year.

This is, again, working-class food meant to be put on the stovetop early, cooked long and slow — at the cook’s convenience — without much ceremony, to feed hungry people who work the fields. It would not be unusual for yesterday’s soup to be the “starter” for today’s as a new harvest of vegetables is added in a continuing culinary sequel. For some strange reason, as a 21st-century “knowledge worker,” I identify and am inspired by such simplicity and efficiency.

Similar to the French potée or soup aux choux, the dominant ingredient is always — don’t run away, now — cabbage.

Garbure 2This is not cabbage soup, a watery British concoction that food writer Jane Grigson refers to as “a Protestant form of torture.” Being from the home of all things pig, duck and goose, documented Gascon versions can include salt pork, sausages or other pickled and preserved pork products, or for special occasions confit d’oie, canard or … porc.

Sniffing through my library, I see that André Daguin, author of Foie Gras, Magret and Other Good Food From Gascony, offers his version of the stew from the Hôtel de France. In this très sophisticated version, the cabbage is “fried” in duck fat to “give it a caramelized flavor,” which — like the aforementioned confit — sounds splendid (and totally decadent) but seems like overkill, especially here in the Hudson Valley and my fat-conscious kitchen.

The mention of “caramelized” cabbage did, however, suggest a variation in the basic recipe of boiled vegetables that would actually raise the flavor profile, with or without meat.

For about a month now, I’ve been on a kick of roasting olive-oil-tossed winter vegetables with a mess of shallots at high (425 degrees Fahrenheit) heat to get that same caramelized effect. (My favorite: Brussels sprouts, with lots of shallots and a bit of smoky bacon, tossed with toasted walnuts to finish! But that’s for another day.) This caramelization will also offer additional body and depth (umami!) to the stock, which — particularly for vegetarians who might want to try this — consists primarily of a healthful-but-relatively-boring bean stock. Daguin’s version calls for a chicken stock, and you could surely use a fine homemade (or even canned) meat or vegetable stock, but in the spirit of the original, I’m trying to keep this simple.

I’m staying away from potatoes for personal reasons, but you could certainly split the difference with the called-for turnips if you lean that way. And while celery is called for in most recipes, I noticed a deal on fennel at Foodtown and substituted it as the licorice flavor, especially when roasted, adds a nice touch. As for cabbage, I lean toward Savoy (curly) cabbage as it is slightly milder in taste, but the more commonplace green or red cabbage is fine.

So, until the asparagus appears … .

Roasted vegetable garbure

About 8 servings (plenty to eat and some to freeze)


¼ cup olive oil, plus more for vegetables

2 large onions, roughly chopped

6 cloves of garlic (peeled and chopped)

½ pound dried white beans (soaked overnight and drained; save soaking water)

1 pound ham hock(s)

4-5 shallots, peeled, halved and sliced ¼ inch thick)

2 leeks (white plus about 1 inch green, trimmed, washed and sliced ½ inch thick)

4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks

1 bulb fennel (washed, cored, halved and sliced ¼ inch thick)

3 medium white turnips (peeled, washed and diced large)

1 head Savoy cabbage (halved, cored and sliced ½ inch thick)

Chopped parsley for garnish

1. Heat oven to 425 F. Drain beans. (Remember to save the soaking water: you will be cooking the beans in it.) In a large (soup) pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté half the onion until barely translucent. Add 2/3 of the chopped garlic and cook, stirring for another minute. Add thyme, bay leaves and ham hock(s) and heat, stirring for another 1-2 minutes.

2. Add reserved bean-soaking liquid to pot. Once pot returns to a boil, add beans. Top off liquid to cover all, plus about 2 inches. Return to a low boil and immediately lower heat to maintain a simmer.

3. While beans are cooking, toss shallots, leeks, carrots, fennel and turnips in enough olive oil to coat. Spread vegetables on a parchment-paper-lined flat baking sheet in a single layer. (Use two pans if necessary or cook in batches — don’t crowd the vegetables.) Salt and pepper liberally.

4. Roast vegetables on the upper middle shelf of the oven. Check after 15 minutes. Flip the vegetables with a spatula and roast for another 10. (There should be a slight char; if not, toss again and roast, checking again every 5 minutes or so until done.)

5. Add vegetables to bean pot. (Beans should have cooked 45 minutes-1 hour by now.) Adjust salt and pepper. Remove ham hock from pot and allow to cool. Remove meat from hock and return to pot.

6. In a Dutch oven, warm ¼ cup olive oil over medium-high heat until fragrant. Add remaining onion and sauté stirring for 3 minutes. Add remaining garlic. Stir for about a minute and sprinkle with a scant teaspoon of raw sugar to aid caramelization. Cook for another 5 minutes or so and start adding cabbage, in batches, stirring constantly. As the first batch wilts, add more until all is included. Cook for another 5-10 minutes over medium-high heat, allowing vegetables to brown slightly.

7. Add caramelized cabbage to soup pot. Deglaze the Dutch oven (with a glass of white wine if you want to be fancy, or with some of the liquid from the bean pot if you want to be practical) and add this liquid to the bean pot. Simmer all for another ½ hour and serve hot, garnished with fresh chopped parsley.

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