Monday was the national day of ribollita in the Italian Food calendar. It is one of the best-known dishes from Tuscany, and follows the tradition of “cucina povera”: “poor man’s food”.
“Bollire”, as you may guess, means “to boil”. Ribollita is something that has been “re-boiled”, specifically, leftover vegetable and bean soup which is soaked in day-old (or more) bread and reheated to create a thick texture which is almost solid.
Since the Catholic Church forbade the consumption of meat on Fridays, people often made enormous soups on that day. There would be leftovers for the next couple of days and always leftover bread to soak in it. (Bread was generally made every week in a communal oven in each hamlet and Tuscan cuisine abounds in ways to use it up!)
There are both handwritten and printed texts from as far back as the 1500s that refer to a soup made with Tuscan kale “cavolo nero” and bread. So when you eat it, you can imagine people half a millenium ago doing the same!
Purists will never put parmigiano on it, but dressed with a good drizzle of excellent extra virgin olive oil and a little black pepper, ribollita is “poor food” fit for a king!
Each family has its recipe for ribollita. They are all as valid as one another and just tend to vary regarding the exact vegetables used. This is ours and we hope you enjoy it!
This soup, like many others, actually improves if left for a day or so. We make a large batch and have it in varied ways - without the bread soaked into it but served on top of hot toast rubbed with raw garlic or with the bread and served at room temperature; puréed and cooked with short pasta such as ditalini; or this traditional way, with bread soaked into it, creating a thick, comforting texture for cold nights. Guests that come to our cooking classes in Tuscany often remark that something so simple can be so complex-tasting and delicious.
250g/8 oz dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight and already cooked (see below)
2 cloves garlic
Sprig of sage
3 small tomatoes
Extravirgin olive oil
1 stick celery
1⁄2 cavolo nero (or kale)
1⁄2 curly white cabbage
3 skinned tomatoes (can be canned)
Optional: other seasonal vegetables (potatoes, zucchini, green beans, winter squash, peas...)
Sprig of thyme
1 litre/2 pints vegetable stock
300g Tuscan-style bread in 1 cm slices
The previous evening, soak the beans in plenty of cold water.
Change the water and bring slowly to the boil, with the garlic, sage and small tomatoes. Cook slowly for approximately 2 hours, until the beans are tender.
Discard the garlic and sage, and purée half the beans. While the beans are cooking, wash the vegetables well. Cut the carrots into discs or cubes, the tomatoes into large chunks, and the rest into fine slices.
Put all the vegetables into a large pot to fry for 5 minutes in a good swirl of olive oil. Add the herbs, salt, pepper, the whole and puréed beans and the stock. The quantities should be such as to end up with a thick soup, but remember that the cabbage and cavolo nero will release a lot of water.
Check the seasoning and cook with the lid on for about an hour and a half on a low flame.
Take a terracotta bowl and line it with slices of bread. Add some soup. Alternate layers of bread and soup.
Dress with plenty of olive oil and black pepper.
Allow to rest for at least 2 hours so that the bread absorbs the liquid well.
This can be served hot (boil again for 20 minutes, being careful not to burn the bread, or bake at 210°C for 10 minutes), at room temperature, or chilled, dressed with more olive oil.