Monday, February 24, 2014

Ribollita, the "Flexitarian" Stew adapted from Mark Bittman in The New York Times

Mark Bittman, "The Flexitarian"
Mark Bittman calls himself “The Flexitarian”.  He writes about his food philosophy in The New York Times Dining Out Section once a month.  I am happy to report that from the start Bittman promised that, first and foremost, his new column would be an ode to great-tasting food. What he offers too is food for those of us who are moderate in our eating habits—certainly not strict vegans or vegetarians--but omnivores making conscious choices about what we eat. His recipes are for all of us trying to incorporate more good-for-you plants and fewer animal proteins into our diets.  For all their hullabaloo, vegans and vegetarians make up a scant 5% of the population. But a lot of us are working hard to assimilate healthier grains, fish, legumes, fruits and vegetables into our diets more often.  And that’s where Bittman’s recipes come in.  They offer truly  flavorful food that I can only describe as even tasting healthy, a sensation I had as I dug into this Ribollita, a cheesy, vegetable-rich stew with its giant ‘crouton’ of whole grain bread.

Tuscany, so beautiful it's impossible
to forget.
Ribollita recipe is based on a famous Tuscan soup. It acquires stew status when you add to its essential ingredients: Leftover bread, cannelloni beans and carrots, onions, celery and tomatoes. 
This version is  perfect for yet another dip by the Polar Vortex and ideal for a Meatless Monday.  It’s pure peasant food and dates back to the Middle Ages when the servants gathered up the remains of their feudal lord’s banquets and boiled them for their own dinners. Ribollita means ‘reboiled’ in Italian.   I didn’t follow Mark Bittman’s recipe to the letter.  I actually followed his advice when he wrote “even vegetable stews could have more vegetables” and upped their quantities.  I did however use what he described as "a boatload of kale" to which I added baby spinach.  I used a Dutch oven on the stovetop because the dish goes into the oven for the final 10 to 15 minutes. That's when its parmesan topping gets its crunch.  The Dutch Oven works too because there's quite a volume to this recipe.   The end result was luscious, brimming with flavor and texture. And there’s something so smug about eating like this:  You feel positively glowing with health.  And the next morning, I even weighed less than the day before, a nice side affect of heating so well! Here is the recipe:

Ribollita adapted from Mark Bittman, The Flexitarian:
Takes about 1 hour all told.  Serves 4 generous portions.

5 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
Salt and ground black pepper
2 cups cooked or canned cannellini beans (1- 14oz. can)
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
4 cups vegetable stock
2 fresh thyme sprigs
10 oz. chopped kale
5 oz. baby spinach
4 large, thick slices whole-grain bread, toasted
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan*
*If you have a rind of parmesan in the cheese drawer, this is the perfect time to put it into the pot with the stew in step 2. 
Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. When it’s hot, add onion, carrot, celery and garlic; sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, 5 to 10 minutes.

Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Drain the beans; if they’re canned, rinse them as well. Add them to the pot along with tomatoes and their juices and stock, rosemary and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat so the soup bubbles steadily; cover and cook, stirring once or twice to break up the tomatoes, until the flavors meld, 15 to 20 minutes.
Fish out and discard the thyme stems and stir in the kale and spinach. Taste and adjust seasoning. Lay bread slices on top of the stew so they cover the top and overlap as little as possible. Scatter red onion slices over the top, drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with Parmesan.


Put the pot in the oven and bake until the bread, onions and cheese are browned and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. (If your pot fits under the broiler, you can also brown the top there.) Divide the soup and bread among 4 bowls and serve.


  1. Monte! My whole family loves this recipe. Easy and so yummy. The Parmesan toasts on top somehow elevate a simple bean dish to something a little more sophisticated. Perfect timing. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much for taking time to comment, Connie! You made my day. I hope more people will try this. Among its many charms is that it's amazingly inexpensive. I think I got the whole thing on the table for $11.00 plus parmesan! That's $2.75 a serving for something really good! Take care and I hope winter's almost over in Kansas City. XOXO