Bergamo-Style Savoy Cabbage Soup with Chickpeas

Zuppa di Verza alla Bergamasca con i Ceci

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • For

    4 to 6


Appears in

Marcella Cucina

By Marcella Hazan

Published 1997

  • About

Compare this Savoy cabbage soup from Bergamo, in Lombardy, with the one from Romagna. They both start with the cabbage and end with the Parmesan, but what different roads they travel in between! This one is spicier, thanks to the pancetta; more aromatic, courtesy of the celery; and faintly muskier, a quality derived from the chickpeas.

I have left the choice of dried or canned chickpeas to the reader. For reasons I can’t fathom, the canned are excellent, often better than the dried, which can be variable. When it comes to other legumes such as cannellini or cranberry beans or lentils, if I have the choice, I prefer to use the dried rather than the canned kind because their consistency and flavor are so much better. Nevertheless, given the impulsive, unpremeditated nature of Italian cooking, if there is no time for soaking and cooking dried beans, I’d sooner use canned ones than forgo making the dish.

One step I don’t try to save time on is peeling chickpeas. It’s not such a nuisance as it may seem and goes very quickly once you get the knack of squeezing the peel off between thumb and forefinger, and the result is a soup free of the pesky, papery, distractingly dry, and wholly useless bits of peel. Nothing belongs in what you eat that doesn’t bring some pleasure.


  • A medium of head Savoy cabbage
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces chopped pancetta or salt pork
  • cup chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped carrot
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked, or 2 cups drained canned chickpeas
  • Salt
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


  1. Detach the outer leaves of the cabbage, discarding any that may be bruised or discolored. Wash them briefly in cold water, then shred them very fine together with the rest of the head. You should get about 6 cups, but slightly more or less does not matter.
  2. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot, add the chopped pancetta or salt pork and chopped onion, and turn on the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion becomes colored a pale gold, then add the chopped carrot and celery, turning them over to coat them well.
  3. Stir from time to time and when the color of the carrot and celery has become darker, add the shredded Savoy cabbage. Turn it over and over to coat it well, then cook, stirring from time to time, until all the cabbage has wilted. Add just enough water to cover the cabbage, put a lid on the pot, and turn down the heat to low. Cook for about 1 hour.
  4. Squeeze the skins off the drained chickpeas. (You may omit this step if you really don’t mind having the skins in the soup.) Add the chickpeas to the soup pot; add salt and liberal grindings of black pepper; and with a wooden spoon, turn over the contents of the pot two or three times. Add just as much water as may be necessary to cover, put the lid back on the pot, and cook at a gentle but constant simmer for 2 more hours. If you find that the soup is short of liquid, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of water when needed. When ready to serve the soup should be rather dense.
  5. Just before transferring the soup to a serving bowl, add the grated Parmesan and the remaining tablespoon of oil, stirring them thoroughly into the soup.