Few scents evoke an emotional response like that of bread as it rises to perfection in a hot oven. Taste buds awaken, eyes widen, stomachs rumble,...
I'll never forgot the first time I had Ribollita. It was in the speck of a hill top town called Montebenichi, Tuscany at Osteria L'Orciaia. The owner of the nearby Tuscan farm house where my entire family was staying recommended the place. We were blown away by the simplicity yet richness of the dish. It was served at room temperature in little earthenware bowls. We went back two days later and had Ribollita again.
Ribollita literally means "reboiled". Like most Tuscan cuisine, the soup has peasant origins. There are many variations but the main ingredients always include leftover bread, cannellini beans and inexpensive vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, spinach and onions. And while you find recipes that use chicken broth or pancetta, this true Tuscan version is 100% vegetarian. It would be vegan except for the addition of cheese.
Recipe for 6. This soup gets better with age. Make extra!!
Ingredients and equipment:
•1 cup dried cannellini beans, covered with water and soaked overnight.
•2 cans of cannellini beans
•4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
•1 onion, thinly sliced
•1 leek, white and light green parts only, sliced in half lengthwise, rinsed and cleaned and thinly sliced (rinse well because leeks have a lot of sand and grit in them)
•1 carrot, ¼-inch dice (trim at top and bottom but don't peel, the skin is good for you)
•1 celery stalk, ¼-inch dice (trim at top and bottom)
•Sprigs of thyme, 1 sprig of rosemary and 1 bay leaf wrapped with kitchen twine
•2 garlic gloves, sliced thin
•2 bunches cavolo nero (black cabbage) or other kale or greens (swiss chard, escarole), roughly chopped. Chop off the thick stems and discard.
•Small can of tomato paste (6 ounces)
•3 cups water
•6 slices rustic bread (day-old is OK)
•Freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Note: This soup is all about what's in your pantry and refrigerator. Use vegetables that are in your refrigerator or sitting on your counter top: ideas are potatoes, Brussels sprouts, spinach and chopped tomatoes.
Note: There is a BIG difference between Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and generic Parmesan cheese (i.e., the stuff in the green can). Choose what your wallet can afford. Parmigiano-Reggiano is an Italian government protected name that refers to cheese produced in a very certain and approved way in the Italian province of Emilia-Romagna.
If using dried beans, drain beans from the overnight soaking liquid and place the pre-soaked cannellini beans in a medium stockpot. Cover the beans with clear water twice the depth of the beans and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and let the beans simmer until tender, about 1 hour, drain. If using canned beans, drain beans into a colander and rinse well.
In a large heavy-bottom pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion, leeks, carrot, celery, sliced garlic, and herbs. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the black cabbage (or Kale) and cook until the cabbage has softened and everything has blended, about 10 minutes. Salt and pepper, to taste.
Remove the sprigs of rosemary and thyme and the bay leaf. Add the tomato paste, and stir until the tomato paste is well distributed throughout the vegetable mixture and begins to take on a “rust” color.
Add the prepared beans to the vegetable mixture and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until the flavors are well blended, about 30 minutes.
Here's where the “recooked” term comes in. Let the soup sit for several hours or overnight. Rewarm (or recook) to a gentle simmer.
When the soup is close to the temperature you like, toast or grill the bread until both sides are browned. Cut a garlic clove in half, and rub the toasted bread with the cut end of the garlic. Discard the garlic. This is called “bruschetta”.
Serve the soup hot with the garlic bruschetta on the side. Garnish with a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste. Dip the bruschetta in the soup and enjoy.
Ribollita gets better for a week. Reheat the leftovers the next day and enjoy an even better soup. You can even continue to add more cooked vegetables every day and stretch the soup out for a week. Each day the soup will be something different as you “recook” it every day.
Hint: While simmering the soup, add a Parmesan cheese rind to the soup. Remove before serving. The cheese rind adds extra flavor to the soup and some saltiness.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.