Dinner at Long Last: Ribollita

Ah, mothers. The keenest of observers. 

Whether it was the, uhh, few pounds I gained while studying in Italy or, worse, a typo on the blog, my mom has always been quick to pick up on the things it takes me much longer to notice.  

(Who, I ask, has time to think about how tight their pants are getting when there’s coconut gelato to be had?)

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So when I called my mom to run a few post ideas by her, I shouldn’t have been surprised at her response:

Those are good”, she said, “but you know, you may want to consider making a main dish”. 

Nearly two months in, and I have yet to post anything that would qualify as dinner. Or even lunch. Huh. 

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This being the same conversation that led to the creation of Project: Healthy-Eating Ideas for Mom and Dad, I figured I’d try to kill two birds with one stone (figuratively speaking, of course) and make a healthy, tasty meal that my parents - and you guys! - might want to make too. 

Enter: Ribollita!  

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Once again, here’s how I imagine the conversation playing out:  

DAD: Ribo-who?
ME: Ribollita! Italian for “reboiled”, ribollita is a classic Tuscan white bean and vegetable soup that got its start as a tasty and resourceful way to use up whatever people had on hand. Leftover vegetable soup would be reboiled (hence the name), and white beans, inexpensive veggies, and stale bread would be tossed in along the way. It’s history! It’s tasty! Cool, right?  

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DAD: Whatever you say. But vegetable soup? I mean, sure it sounds healthy. But is it really a meal? 
ME: Sure is! Because it’s full of veggies, fresh herbs, white beans, and tomatoes, you’re right to think that it’s good for you. But this isn’t just any healthy vegetable soup. See, by simmering a bit of parmesan along with the veggies and beans, and tossing in a handful of stale cubes of bread just before serving, you also get a soup that’s satisfyingly savoury and hearty enough to stand on its own as a meal. 

(Although, let’s be honest here, I wouldn’t say no if you offered me a piece of the bread to go with it.)  

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DAD: But do I need to make soup, let it cool, reboil it, and then add everything else in? That sounds like a lot of work.
ME: Nope! The idea behind that process is that it gives the flavours in your soup more time to develop and meld. But the recipes I looked at didn’t require that you do that (most didn’t even mention it), so I didn’t bother and it still turned out great! Plus, the recipe makes lots, so the flavours will have lots of time to meld before you tuck into another bowl the next day! When it comes down to it, this is easy stuff: all you need are a few easy-to-find ingredients, a bit of chopping, one pot and some time, and you’ve got yourself a great meal.  

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DAD: Well, I’m sold.
ME: I thought you would be.  

So there we have it! Dinner, at long last. 

Next on my list: conquering the typos. 

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Ribollita
Inspired by recipes from a bunch of sources (including Bon AppétitCookie, and Jim Lahey’s My Bread)
NOTE: Other recipes add in all sorts of stuff: garlic, other herbs, potatoes, fennel, additional greens, and generally more or less of this-and-that. The results may not be “authentic” (and I’m sure the recipe below isn’t, in some way or another), but from what I gather the idea is to make something that works for you. I’ve tried to give you a good base to work with, so run with it and have some fun! 
Serves 4-6

Ingredients 
2 tbsp olive oil 
1 medium red onion, peeled and roughly chopped (roughly 1 cup)
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (roughly 1 cup)
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped (roughly 1 cup)
1/2 tsp red chiles
4 cups of kale, stems and ribs discarded and leaves roughly chopped
1 15-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes 
2 15-ounce cans of white beans (cannellini, navy, or Great Northern), rinsed and drained
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, woody stem removed
1 2-inch square of Parmesan cheese rind (or cheese, without rind, if you don’t have a rind)
3.5-5.5 cups of water or vegetable broth* 
1.5 cups stale bread, cut or torn into roughly 1-inch cubes**
Salt

Directions
1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, chiles and 1/2 tsp salt. Saute until vegetables start to brown, stirring frequently, about 15-20 minutes. Add kale, cover pot and let kale wilt a bit, about 5 minutes. (Initially the kale filled my pot nearly to the top but, with time, it wilted down, as you can see below!)

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2. Add tomatoes, beans, rosemary, cheese rind and water and stir. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for at least an hour.*** 
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3. Discard cheese rind (if there’s any left). Gently stir in bread cubes (try not to smush them to bits) and allow to soften and absorb broth for a couple of minutes. Taste and adjust with salt.**** Serve with a bit of fresh grated parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (optional, but tasty!). 

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*I used about 3.5 cups of water, which made for a ribollita that had very little broth. If you want something soupier, use more water/broth. Keep in mind too that the bread will soak up some of the broth. 
**If your bread cubes aren’t super-stale, you can dry them out on a baking sheet in a 250°F oven for 10-15 minutes, or until they’re crumbly.
***According to Jim Lahey, now’s the time you’d let the soup cool and refrigerate it to allow the flavours to develop (he doesn’t specify for how long, but I imagine you could do anything from a couple hours up to a day), after which you’d reboil it and carry on with the directions.
****I don’t want to give you an exact amount, as the salt content of your water/broth, tomatoes, beans, cheese will vary considerably depending on what you use. To give you an idea though, I used water, unsalted tomatoes and salted beans and ended up adding about a 1/2 tsp of salt at the end. After you’ve added the bread, taste and adjust until it tastes great to you! 

Don’t forget: today’s your last day to get your suggestions in. Have a great idea? Head over to the suggestions page

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