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Heat the oil in a saucepan, then add the onions, garlic, thyme, sugar and a good pinch of salt. Cook on a medium-low heat for 15-20 mins or until golden coloured. Add the stock and simmer for a further 10 mins.
In a separate large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the barley for 15 mins, adding the cavolo nero or kale for the final 3 mins of cooking. Drain and rinse under cold water, then add to the soup and warm through.
Heat the grill. Top the toasted bread with cheese and place under the grill until it’s bubbly and melted. Serve in 2 large bowls with the cheesy croutons on top.