As I sit here pondering the impending winter storm about to descend on Atlanta and preparing to stock up for the coming onslaught, I remember my old pal, Kermit the Frog lamenting how “It’s Not Easy Being Green”, and I am given to wonder if he ever tasted the old Tuscan favorite, Ribollita. Perhaps if he had, his burden of green-ness might have felt – well – less burdensome. Certainly there is nothing more green, healthy, and satisfying than a bowl of this stew-like soup.… or is it soup-like stew? Kermit may also not have met my friend, Tiffany, who has a compelling passion for Ribollita to the extent that she collects recipes for it and loves to prepare it. She reminded me of her “green obsession” recently when she asked not if but when we might have a conversation about it on MY ITALIAN DISH. With the wind picking up and ice beginning to fall from the sky, I see no better time than the present.
What is Ribollita Kermit might ask? It is the culinary embodiment, in my mind, of what my mother, Loretta, called “peasant food” – simple, hearty, healthy, inexpensive, using common ingredients, and can be made in quantity to be served for days. Typically Ribollita is made with greens (specifically black cabbage), beans, tomatoes, bread, and more beans and greens. Is it a soup or a stew? The addition of the bread accounts for the difference here which, to me, makes it more like stew. There must be endless numbers of recipes for it swirling about the culinary atmosphere – using all types of ingredients in combination with… beans and greens. I want to introduce to you the way I make it – rather traditional and completely vegetarian. Actually, I see no reason for using meat in this dish! With that in mind you will see that it will be no less hearty preparing it my way.
Ribollita is an ever popular recipe that is truly Tuscan. It means literally “re-boiled” as it is boiled twice during its preparation. Many think the recipe had its beginnings in Firenze (Florence) especially the Florentines! However, Siena, and other areas also claim it. Recipes are said to go back as far as the Middle Ages. At this time in history, Italy and Tuscany, in particular, existed in a feudal society where areas of land were divided into fiefs. It is thought that the lords or upper classes gave their left over bread to the peasants who added it to water and a few vegetables creating a soup. It was re-boiled over days and the bread thickened it.
Growing up, we did not specifically eat or cook Ribollita. However, we did have dishes made with greens that were very similar. We had Minestra – which was a soup of greens, sometimes using a ham bone and sometimes beans. Minestra is considered by most to be just a name for a vegetable soup. In our house, Minestra, always featured some sort of greens in it. It almost meant greens in our house. It was often served at Easter. Also, we often had a dish my parents called “Verdes and Beans”. (Verde means green in Italian) This was a simple dish of beans and cabbage – again more stew-like than soup and was a winter “anytime” meal. Bread was offered on the side – but many times it was placed in the bottom of the bowl with the soup/stew poured over. This is also another similarity with Ribollita.
My recipe for Ribollita is completely vegetarian and very nutritious. To call it soup is a little misleading. It begins as any soup, but after the bread is added, it becomes a thick, hearty stew. It is a meal in itself incorporating vegetables, starch, and protein. It is so delicious and very satisfying. With as many recipes out there for this dish as cats in the Colosseum, you are guaranteed to find many variations of ingredients from using meat to even using anchovies. I assure you that you are missing nothing by not including the hairy little fish in this lovely dish. Traditionally, Black Cabbage or Cavolo Nero is used for the greens. Interestingly, Black Cabbage is not black! Cavolo Nero or Black Cabbage is simply dark green Kale! Sometimes you’ll find this labeled Lacinato Kale. It is all the same. See how lush and beautiful this is!
You can also use Savoy Cabbage. I like to use a combination of the dark Kale and just because I love it – Swiss Chard, with the beautiful and vivid lipstick red vein. Troppo Bella!
The classical preparation calls for creation of the soup the first day, adding day old bread to the soup the second day, and the re-boiling of the soup and eating it on the 3rd day. Uh—excuse me, but who has 3 available days to make soup? RELAX – It definitely does NOT require a tedious 3 day step by step process. Just watch and see!
The version I introduce today will be an easy “one day wonder” for any cold wintry day! It serves 8-10 at a sitting, or can be eaten over several days as we did when confined to our Atlanta igloo during Winter Storm 2011. You can also freeze it. This stuff is addictive and delicious. It provides all the nutrition needed for a meal all in one bowl and is a great way to get the family to eat greens and love them! Does it get any better than this? ANDIAMO!
5 fresh plum tomatoes skinned and chopped or 5 canned plum tomatoes chopped
3/4 c. dry Cannellini Beans soaked overnight in water to cover – Drain next day
1/3 c. dry Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans) soaked overnight in water to cover – Drain next day
1 lb. Black Cabbage Leaves (or Dark/Lacinato Kale, or Savoy Cabbage) – washed, leaves torn/chopped into large pieces
1/2 lb. Swiss Chard Leaves with Red Vein – washed, leaves torn/chopped into large pieces
IN DEEP POT SAUTE:
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
ADD TO POT:
1 1/2 tbsp. Tomato Paste
5 chopped skinned plum tomatoes
2 peeled and diced medium potatoes
3/4 c. carrots chopped
3/4 c. celery
Saute above ingredients for about 5 min – stir occasionally
Add all greens – they will fill the pot – looks like a lot!
Work into the other vegetables and see how the greens “shrink”!
64 oz. (about 8 cups) Vegetable Broth – I use organic.
1 Bay Leaf
1 1/2 tsp fresh Thyme chopped
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
ADD: All Soaked and drained beans
ADD: 1 Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese rind
I save these. You can freeze them. I have also seen them sold in the specialty cheese departments at grocers now – Several in a container.
Pick up a container if you can and keep frozen. They are great in many sauces.
Season with Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Bring to boil – lower heat & simmer about an hour uncovered. Then cover & simmer 2nd hour.
Use a coarse Italian Bread – 5-7 slices Plain, Ciabatta, Potato Rosemary, Olive Oil Rosemary – whatever you have or like
Brush slices with Extra Virgin Olive Oil .(Some recipes suggest rubbing with garlic.) Bake slices at 350 til golden.(10-15 min)
Lay slices in bottom of large pot.
Pour all of soup over.
Let sit until completely cool. This can be a couple of hours or even overnight if you’d rather.
REBOIL! Stir as it boils, breaking up the soft bread pieces. This will thicken the soup.
Most will melt into the mixture – some pieces will remain. It should be thick like stew.
To serve, remove the Bay Leaf and re-season if needed. Serve with a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil drizzled over each dish.
PARLA COME MANGI!
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Also: See the RECIPE OF THE MONTH on LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE!
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography