Have you been hit hard by winter?
Make yourself a bowl of Ribollita, one of my favorite, most affordable soups.
I sit here in pleasant Tucson, Arizona, USA with daytime temps hitting the 70’s but I know a lot of you are suffering through some freezing and unpleasant weather this week. I’m offering this cozy, warming soup as my gift to you. I wish I could bring it to your home and share a bowl with a glass of wine, but this will have to do for now. This soup is actually designed to use up what you have left in your pantry and fridge and will fill your bellies with nourishment and love!
Ribollita is the term used in Italy for this classic peasant/farmer bean and bread soup that only becomes a “ribollita” once it is reboiled the next day or day after that!
Like all classic recipes, there are probably as many versions of this soup as there are kitchens in Tuscany. My version is mostly based on one I learned in cooking school in Italy some years back, and some minor tweaks of my own based on availability and preferences. That being said, there are a few things that are non-negotiable if this is to be recognized as a true ribollita (according to my training).
The Non-negotiables – eh recommendations
This recipe, as usual, is mostly a guideline since this soup is traditionally cooked with pretty much whatever was available from the garden and the pantry. However, if you want to achieve a bit of that authentic flavor profile, there are just a few limits to your creativity. But realize that I never limit you! These are recommendations, not commandments!
- Cook beans from dry. Canned beans just can’t give you the same flavor and texture (plus dried are cheaper and healthier). I believe this to be true since I mostly cook with dried beans (I like to cook a lot extra and save in the freezer in about 2-cup portions (the amount in your average 14 ounce can). However, if that will stop you from making this and you happen to have a couple of cans of white beans in your pantry, I say go for it! I promise not to tell!
- Do not add too much tomato. This soup should be a pleasant yellow/orange color and not bright red. Use a Roma tomato if you have one, but some cut cherry tomatoes or half a small can of tomatoes will work as well.
- Use a whole grain, rustic bread, if possible. It doesn’t get as soggy as quickly.
- Traditionally, the recipe calls for the proportions of bread to vegetables to be pretty even. I have to say, that my recipe does not do this. I am an infamous vegetable overloader, so just know that I kept the bread to about half of the veg. It may have had something to do with my husband eating too much of the bread I was saving, but in the end we both agreed that too much more bread would have been off-putting to us. Add what you have. To each his own!
- Lacinto/dinosaur kale (called cavolo nero or black cabbage in Italy) is kind of a must for authenticity. That being said, I know Italian cooks who have used Swiss chard instead and no one arrested them! Once again, I promise not to tell. Kale, chard or even spinach can work. Just remember chard leaves and spinach should be added at the end of cooking, at the same time as the bread since they are more fragile.
- Finish the soup with a good drizzle of the best olive oil you can afford. I give instructions for my quick and easy infused olive oil in the notes. Infused with rosemary, lemon and garlic if you have the time and want to get fancy! Not required.
I used my homemade vegetable bouillon in this recipe, so if you have some stored in the freezer, use 1-2 blocks here. It totally amps up the flavor! If not, you can just use broth instead of water or use another bouillon you like. If you haven’t tried making this homemade bouillon, I highly encourage it. One batch, that takes about 30 minutes to make, lasts me about 6 months – and I use it a fair amount! I throw one or two ice cube blocks of it in whatever dish I may be making that has a broth or sauce. It’s so versatile. And it takes up so little space in your freezer. Highly recommended.
I hope you will celebrate the near end of winter by making this simple soup and let me know in the comments how it goes, or if you have any questions. I’m here for you! Tag me on Instagram or Facebook with your photos if you can grab one before chowing down! Love and peace to all of you!
Ribollita - Italian Bean and Bread Soup
- ½ lb. dried white beans cannellini are traditional, I used Mayocoba beans
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning or Bouquet garni
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ large onion diced
- 2 medium carrots diced
- 2 celery stalks diced
- ½ large fennel bulb diced, optional
- 4 cloves garlic sliced
- 2-3 sprigs thyme
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
- 2 medium potatoes I used Yukon gold - diced
- ½ lb. lacinto kale roughly a bunch - feel free to substitute Swiss chard if that's what you have - sliced into bite-sized pieces
- ½ head cabbage savoy or green, roughly 3 cups, sliced and chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 Roma tomato diced - or ½ can tomatoes
- 6 ounces rustic bread preferably stale, torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1 Parmigiano-Reggiano rind optional
- 1 Vegetable Bouillon see my recipe, or use your own - optional
- 5 cups water or if not using bouillon, can use half water and half vegetable or chicken stock
Cook the beans
- If using canned beans, skip this section. Just drain and rinse 2 14 ounce cans of white beans and add in Step 5 with the bread.
- You can either soak the dried beans in water for several hours or overnight, or if you haven't planned ahead, just put the beans in a pot with about 4 cups of water. Add the bay leaves and Italian seasoning and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Keep simmering until cooked. This can take anywhere between 1 and 3.5 hours depending on if you have soaked and how old your beans are. You want them to be mashable, but not falling apart. I usually do this a day ahead, store in the same pot and warm them the next day.
Make the Soup
- Prepare the onions, carrots, celery, fennel, garlic, potatoes, cabbages and kale. Set aside.
- When the beans are cooked, remove about 1 cup of beans and smash well with a fork or potato masher. Drain the whole beans remaining and add the water to the mashed beans. Set aside the whole beans.
- In your soup pot, prepare the soffrito by heating the olive oil and adding the onion, stirring and sauteing for a minute. Then add the celery, carrot and fennel (if using) and cook over medium heat until soft and slightly golden, about 5-6 minutes. Stir often to avoid burning.
- Add the thyme, salt, potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes and paste, the bean puree and water, parm rind, along with the vegetable bouillon and additional 5 cups of water or broth. Cook over low heat, covered, for about 45 minutes.
- Remove the bay leaves and thyme twigs at this point if you are worried about forgetting. Add the previously cooked whole beans (or canned - drained and rinsed) - and stir and cook five minutes. Add the bread (cut into pieces) stir well and cook for another 5 minutes then turn off the heat.
- Let the soup sit for 10 minutes up to a few hours if eating the same day. Otherwise let it cool and refrigerate, ideally overnight, before reheating the soup over low to medium heat until hot.
- Serve sprinkled with black pepper and drizzled with awesome olive oil. Consider making the lemon, garlic, rosemary oil below.
Rosemary, Garlic, Lemon Olive Oil
- In a clean jar, add ½ cup olive oil, 2 large lemon peels (use a vegetable peeler) from one lemon, and 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped (feel free to use more garlic if you like). Cover and let sit at room temperature until ready to use. Best if it sits a few hours. If you have leftover, store in the fridge for up to a week and let it come to room temperature before using.