Ribolitta: Your New Favorite Soup

Once again, our intrepid author / cook / photographer forgot to take a picture AFTER the recipe was completed. So… here’s a little montage of it being cooked. Imagine, though, if you will, crusty-soft-golden-brown crispy brothy chunks of bread beneath golden sizzles of parmesan, atop a dense vegetable soup, heady with garlic and rosemary. That’s the picture we should have taken!

Ribollita is the epitome of Italian peasant food. Simple. Flavorful. Nourishing. Balanced. Made from what’s lying around.  And, when executed with artistry, absolutely sublime.  A rich broth, heady with garlic and redolent of herbs.  A sprinkle of parmesan. Even a crust (sort of).  Peasant food, perhaps, but peasant food fit for a queen.  

The name Ribollita means “reboiled.” Traditionally, servants and peasants would make it from leftover bean-and-vegetable soup, thickened with some chunks of day-old bread, and then reheated with a few handfuls of greens. If you had some rosemary, great! Sometimes, you’d scrounge up a parmesan rind to infuse some flavor. 

If you actually have some nice garlicky minestrone around, you can skip right to step four. But I’m assuming you don’t, so we’re going to make this soup from scratch (well, except the canned beans…). And instead of just adding the bread, we’re going spread it on top, and bake it in the oven so the bread gets soft and brothy and crispy all at once. Like stuffing floating on soup.

Amply serves four   

1 can good chopped tomatoes (see #2 below for note about size)¾ pound rustic bread, old but not rock-hard. I use the Dan’s Brick Oven Bread.
2 bunches Tuscan kale 2-3 medium carrots
2-3 celery stalks 1 large purple onion 
1 small wedge parmesan or 1 cup grated.8 fat garlic cloves 
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil + more to drizzle 15-oz cooked white beans. I used the Jack’s brand butter beans. 
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optionaltwo sprigs fresh rosemary, optional
6 cups watersalt to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425. Chop the carrots, celery, onion and garlic into soup-size chunks. Sautee in olive oil over medium heat, in a Dutch oven. Stir occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes. 

2. Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes, but save the juices. (To be clear, you want chopped tomatoes in thin juice, not crushed or ground tomatoes in thick sauce. The Cadia brand does nicely). I’ve been told a 15-oz can is more in line with tradition. But if you like tomatoes like I like tomatoes, go for a 29-oz can. Add to the pot and continue to cook and stir until they caramelize a bit, another 8-10 minutes. (This is why you leave the juices out: they caramelize better when they’re not too wet).

3. Add the reserved tomato juice, rosemary and pepper, beans, parmesan rind or 2 Tbsp grated parmesan (there are vegan options!), about 6 cups water, and 2 tsp salt; and simmer 8-10 more minutes. Remove the rosemary.   

4. Meanwhile, remove kale leaves from stems, and tear into chunks. Save the stems for stock some other meal. You won’t be able to fit all the kale in the pot until it starts to wilt, so add about a third… wait till it wilts… add more, etc. Finally, fish out the parmesan rind if you used it.

5. Tear the bread into rough chunks around the size of golf balls, give or take. Mix a third of the chunks in the soup to thicken, and nestle the rest on top. Sprinkle with some more parm, drizzle with some more oil. 

6. Bake at 425 about 10 minutes. Serve with more oil and parm if you want.   

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