Ribollita soup reconstructed
Ribollita is a classic Tuscan peasant soup that dates back to the Middle Ages. Ribollita lore says that the soup was originally made of remnants of meals eaten by the aristocracy. In those days, roasts were served on large pieces of bread instead of platters. At the end of the meals, the servants were either given or pilfered leftover bits of bread. The meat-soaked bread was taken home and became the foundation of the soup, along with cannellini beans and bits of vegetables from their gardens, most notably cavelo nero, a large black kale.
"Ribollita" means reboiled. A pot of ribollita might be added to over the course of several days, reboiling after each addition. Bread was cooked into the soup to create a thick, almost porridge-like meal.
My version of ribollita soup
For my version of ribollita, instead of cooking the bread with the soup, I like to add a slice of toasted bread smeared with a bit of pesto and float it on top of the soup just before serving. A purist would tell you that this is definitely not ribollita, which calls for the bread to be cooked along with the vegetables.
I do some other non-traditional things. I like to add tomatoes, that were certainly not available in Italy in the Middle ages, and four kinds of greens: Lacinato kale, Swiss chard, rapini and spinach. If I can find them I use cannellini beans, but great northern beans will do as well. I also use a chunk of pancetta as a tribute to the roast-soaked bread originally used to make ribollita, and just because everything is better with pancetta.
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Parmigiano reggiano rind
I save the rinds of parmigiano reggiano to use in soups, and particularly like to add the cheese rind to ribollita to give it extra flavor depth and a bit of umami.
Healthy and cheap
The beauty of this soup is that is both healthy and cheap. Kale, Swiss chard, rapini and spinach are all nutritionally dense foods. Day-old bread is best and potatoes and beans provide inexpensive sustenance.
If you are looking for a way to amend for your gluttonous and extravagant holidays, ribollita is the perfect healthy and inexpensive soup to start the New Year out. Make extra and eat it for a few days, as it gets better as the flavors meld. Or put your leftovers in the freezer for a quick and healthy future meal.
Garnish with pesto and toast
I like to garnish my ribollita with a piece of Italian bread, brushed with olive oil and toasted, then topped with a spoonful of pesto. See my recipe for Basil and spinach pesto.
Vegetarian and vegan variation
For a vegetarian or vegan variation, use olive oil instead of pancetta to saute the vegetables. Replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock or water, and skip the parmigiano reggiano rind. It will be great!
The fastest way to stem lacinato kale is to use your fingers and pull the stem away from the leaf.
The best way to remove the stem from Swiss chard is to fold the leaf in half and cut the stem off.
- ¼ pound pancetta, cut into ¼" cubes (optional)
- Olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 red onion
- 2 carrots
- 2 celery stalks
- ½ pound yukon gold potatoes, ¼" dice (do not peel)
- 1.5 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes (Pomi brand)
- 9 c chicken stock (or vegetable stock or water)
- 1 parmigiano reggiano rind (optional, but really good)
- ½ t dried thyme
- ½ t dried oregano
- ½ t crushed red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 10 cups mixed greens (lacinato kale, swiss chard, rapini, spinach)
- 2 cups cannellini or great white beans, cooked
- 8 to 10 pieces of day-old rustic Italian bread, each about 3" x 3"
- Olive oil
- ½ cup of basil and spinach pesto (see recipe)
- Lemon wedges
- In the largest soup pot you have, cook pancetta cubes until they begin to brown. Scoop them out of the pan and onto a paper towel lined plate. Set aside. Reserve the fat from the pancetta in the pot.
- In a food processor, finely chop the garlic cloves. Add the onion, and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the onion and garlic mixture to the pancetta fat, and cook until soft over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Depending on how fatty your pancetta is, you may need to add a bit of olive oil.
- In the food processor coarsely chop carrot and celery. Add to onion and garlic mixture and saute for another 10 minutes. Add diced potatoes and stir to coat.
- Add chopped tomatoes, chicken stock and parmigiano reggiano rind, dried thyme, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Stir in mixed greens and cannellini beans and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes.
- Heat broiler on high. Brush each piece of bread with olive oil and put under broiler for 1 to 2 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and spread each piece of bread with a spoonful of pesto. Serve the soup in individual bowls. Float a piece of pesto-covered bread on the top of each bowl. Serve with lemon wedges.
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