This is a recipe for an authentic ribollita which is the classic peasant style Tuscan vegetable and bean soup. Added thickness and body comes from the addition of old bread. Ribollita is quite thick for a soup. Also, it should be noted that my recipe deviates slightly from the norm as the old bread is normally mixed right into the soup at the end. My method keeps it a bit more firm. It is made with a particular type of kale called ‘cavolo nero,’ which is called black leaf kale, dinosaur kale, or lacinato kale in English. In a pinch I have used other types of kale, but quite frankly, the result is inferior–it does not have the right flavor and life is just too short to eat inferior food when, with a little effort and sense of adventure, you can have the very best result.
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- Large Stock Pot with lid
- Wooden Spoon
- Deep bowl for soaking beans
- Pot with lid for cooking beans
- Immersion Blender (optional but helpful)
- Large baking sheet
- 1 bunch cavolo nero (black leaf kale) ribbed and cut into approx. 1 inch pieces
- 1/4 cabbage cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 bunch leafy beet tops (greens) ribbed and cut into approx. 1 inch pieces
- 1 leek cut into 1/4 inch slices – remove the root end and darker green part
- 1 onion peeled and cut in half (lengthwise) and then cut into 1/4 inch half round slices
- 2 potatoes (I like Yukon gold types for this) peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
- 2 carrots – peeled, cut length-wise and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
- 2 zucchini – cut length-wise and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
- 2 celery stalks – cut length-wise and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
- 10 oz. dry cannellini beans
- 2 tomatoes of the canned type (or 1/2 cup canned crushed tomatoes or 2 peeled and seeded fresh plum tomatoes)
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – please use the good stuff with a green color and fruity taste (fruttato) the original Tuscan recipe is adamant about the use of Tuscan olive oil but I’m a bit more lax
- Salt and pepper (I use Kosher or gray salt and pepper freshly ground from a mill)
- 9 oz. Bread in one-inch cubes – A Tuscan boule or that type of European crusty bread
- Soak the beans for about 8 hours in a bowl of cold water with the water covering the beans by about 3 or 4 inches. Drain the soaking water and cook beans in 2 liters of water until tender (about 1 hour). You will be using both the beans and the water that they cooked in.
- Wash all vegetables thoroughly.
- In a large stock pot (preferably wide with room to stir a bit) gently cook the onion in about 1/2 cup of olive oil. Bit by bit add the rest of the vegetables, beginning with the leek, cabbage and kale. Stir intermittently and you will notice that the leafy vegetables ’shrink’ quite a bit. The process of adding the vegetables and cooking them in the pot should take about 10 minutes or so.
- Add the water that the beans cooked in and 1/2 of the beans and stir them in gently. Take the other half of the beans and pass through a food mill. What you want here is the interior of the beans and not the skins. This bean paste serves as a lovely thickener. If you don’t have a food mill, then put them in a food processor and strain the processed beans through a sieve. You can actually skip this step if you want and simply add all the beans to the soup. It will just have a bit rougher texture.
- Add salt and pepper to taste and let the soup simmer at low heat for about 2 hours. Either ‘zip’ an immersion blender into it until some vegetables are smooth but some still have some texture or mash with a large spoon. What you want here is some mushy vegetables but some should retain their shape.
- Toast the bread on a sheet pan in a 400 degree oven for about 4 minutes.
- Place about a 1/2 cup of toasted bread cubes in the serving bowls and ladle soup over them until well covered. Add some freshly grated cheese such as Grana or Parmigiano over it (not very traditional and it can be omitted but I like it). Drizzle a thread of fruity olive oil over each serving and let sit for about 3 minutes in order for bread to ‘amalgamate’ into the soup.
There! You have a Nirvana-like experience in a bowl. Good for the body and the soul.