More cannellini beans. More soup with bread stirred into it. What can I say? I imagine it will be difficult to convince anyone that they ought to run out and try this soup. I was dubious too, the first time I tried it.
I don’t think it’s just the memory of the candlelit barrel vaulted brick ceiling in the restaurant or of being an architecture student in Florence or of walking out in the chilly darkened narrow streets of late fall behind the basilica of Santo Spirito. That memory is sketchy and faded and would be unlikely to have any bearing on how I remember this soup. It was over 20 years ago after all. I do remember the cistern quality of the room, the dim light, the heavy dark wooden furniture. Also that it was kind of thrilling to enter a space that was so deep underground. A dozen of us crowded around a long corner table. We’d been strongly encouraged to try the ribollita. Yes, skip tagliatelle al cinghiale e porcini. Skip bistecca alla fiorentina. (It’s way out of your meager student budget anyway.) Don’t just order a salad or pasta. So I, like everyone else at the table except for one extremely picky person, shrugged and ordered ribollita. I am still so happy I did.
Ribollita is not a brothy soup. It looks like wet stuffing. (I shouldn’t have written that. Now you’ll never try it.) There are ragged shreds of cavolo nero run all through it – it wouldn’t be ribollita without the cavolo nero. Don’t think you can just substitute plain old kale or cabbage and still call it ribollita. Bread is essential. I have come across recipes that layer the bread in the soup like some kind of bread lasagna. This seems wrong to me. It needs tearing up and stirring in; transforming plain old minestrone into a deliciously rich velvet mess. A drip or two of green olive oil over the top, just before serving – that’s also important.
Ribollita is the easiest thing in the world to make and at the same time, time consuming. To extract rich flavor from such simple ingredients, you have to let it cook for awhile but the hands on part is minimal. You will be richly rewarded for a little planning and labor! I think I might be begging you to try this…No, I am begging you to try this. You won’t regret it. Ribollita is just the thing for December. Utterly warming and deeply satisfying on an almost spiritual level for adults. And yet my four year old plowed through a large bowl. Even after burning his tongue, he kept on eating. Then he asked for seconds.
Ribollita – serves 6
- 1 cup of cannellini beans, soaked over night and simmered for about 45 minutes until tender. Save the cooking liquid. (Simmer with a bay leaf and a couple of smashed cloves of garlic. Add a tablespoon of salt towards the end.)
- A small bunch of chopped parsley, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 4 large stalks of celery, chopped
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 (14 1/2 ) ounce can whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
- 1 bunch cavolo nero, stalks removed and sliced into coarse shreds
- 1 loaf of stale pugliese or other Italian style bread, crusts removed and torn into 1-2″ pieces
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil and parmesan
- Over medium heat, in a large heavy soup pot, place the parsley, garlic, celery, carrot, onion and olive oil and stir. When the vegetables are hot and gently sizzling, turn the heat down to low and cover. Leave for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let it stick or brown.
- Add the tomatoes, and cook for another 30 minutes in the same way.
- Add the cavolo nero and half the cannellini beans with enough of their cooking liquid to cover everything and make the soup liquid. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
- Using an immersion blender if you have one or a food processor if you don’t, puree the remaining cannellini beans. Add them to the soup. If the soup looks dry, add a little boiling water until it is just liquid.
- Add the bread, several glugs of extra virgin olive oil, and season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
- The soup should be extremely thick.
- Garnish each serving with more olive oil at the table and parmesan if desired.