Saturday, October 19, 2013


I can still remember clearly the first time I had a bowl of Ribollita. It was on a crisp day in Fiesole in the Fall of 2000. We were considering moving to Florence from Slovenia and life was uncertain and painful as it often is during major transitions. The air was cold and wind cutting as we stepped into the warm embrace of a local restaurant called Perseus. Legs of prosciutto were hanging from the ceiling and big sides of La Bistecca Fiorentina prominently displayed. It was very rustic with pietra serena stone and wood beams everywhere. As we sat down, I asked as I often do in new places, something like "What do I need to eat to understand this place and it's people?" What was set before me was Ribollita, one of Autumn's greatest harvest dishes. It filled more than my stomach on that day and many after.

Writing the recipe for Ribollia transports me to another era and feels sacred as it captures ancient ways of life. Images of peasant Tuscan farmers from whom it orginated back in the 1300's come to mind. It is to be made in the Fall as the air turns crisp, the colors are changing and the flavours of our table have changed seasons. Tuscan's are known to be mangiafagioli (bean eaters) so this dish is a favorite as a primo piatto or even hearty enough for a piatto unico. I learned how to make it from Marco, who was as big and hearty as the dishes he made. He would explain each step then look at me quizically until he was sure I understood the importance of each ingredient. Grazie Mille Marco!

For the beans:
1/2 kilo small canellini beans
See my post on Tuscan Beans which need to be made in advance of the preparation for Ribollita. Save the cooking water for the stock.

Equal parts of Onion, carrot, celery (so for those of you who need detail like 2 onions, and 4 or 5 each of carrots and celery)
clove of garlic (don't improvise here as tuscans don't eat a lot of garlic)
4 ripe tomatoes
1 huge bunch of cavolo nero (kale) leaves (stripped roughly off from the stems)
Optional (a bunch of curly cabbage like napa)

Heel of the parmegiano
olive oil 
perperoncino (hot red pepper-optional)
salt and pepper

 Half a loaf (less or more as you like) cubed 2 day old bread. 
Tuscan bread is hearty and has no salt. In place of this you need pugliese or a heavier bread you would get from a bakery. NOT french, it's too light and airy. If you have fresher bread then cube it and dry it a bit in the oven before adding to the soup. 


Wash, peel and roughly chop the vegetables; sauté the onion and garlic clove for a few minutes in olive oil. Then add the carrots and celery and continue on for a few minutes. Then add the cavolo nero leaves and napa cabbage (if using), Keep sweating without browning until the green of the cavalo nero becomes brighter. Add the tomatoes cut into large pieces, a generous cup of water from the beans, the heel of the parmeggiano, salt, pepper a little red pepper (optional) and let simmer a few minutes to let the tomatoes break down.

Add to this the cannellini beans and enough cooking liquid from the beans plus chicken stock to cover by a coupld of inches. Simmer for one hour until the veggis are tender and there's a good marriage of everything. Turn off heat and take out the heel of the parmeggiano and add a bunch of chopped parsley. Add the bread with more cooking water from the beans if needed. It should be thick like a stew but the bread will soak up quite a bit of liquid so you don't want a spoon to stand up in it! Let is rest for a hour preferably then reheat for a few minutes before serving adding more stock if necessary. This is even better the next day so letting it sit overnight is even better!

To serve, grate parneggiano and drizzle olive oil on top. 

No comments:

Post a Comment