Ah, Ribollita…the Tuscan soup that’s a perfect antidote to winter. Hearty and robust, it’s packed with vegetables and day-old bread making it far more a stew than a soup. Its origins are precise. Its roots are in the peasant foods of Tuscany particularly in the area between Florence and Arezzo. It takes its name from the way it was prepared. A large quantity would be cooked on Friday and it was re-boiled (ribollita) the following days. Its origins are in the Middle Ages when the nobles used slices of bread as plates for their dinners. Their servants would gather these up from their lords’ banquets, add whatever vegetables they had on hand and boil it all up on the stove.
If you have ever gone in search for a recipe for Ribolitta, you’ll find the recipes vary wildly. About the only thing that they have in common is bread, preferably day old, Cannellini beans and cabbage or kale. Ina Garten puts pancetta and Savoy Cabbage in hers. Eataly, the fast-growing grocers of only Italian food adds zucchini and leeks to theirs. Food and Wine likes bacon and swiss chard in theirs. Bon Appetit adds lots of sweet Italian sausage and even a couple of anchovy filets to theirs. As you can gather, this is a pretty forgiving recipe—one of those wonders of the vegetable drawer.
The recipe that caught my eye was from one of the great geniuses of Italian food, a man named Pellegrino Artusi, an Italian businessman and gastronome, best known for his massive cookbook entitled “La Scienza in Cucina e L’arte di Mangiar bene”. Translated it means “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well”. Apparently, Signor Artusi knew what he was talking about as he lived to age 91 when he died in 1911. His take on Ribollita: “This soup that, by modesty, is given the epithet of peasant, I am persuaded that it will be appreciated by everyone, even by gentlemen, if done with due care.”
As the ingredients seemed endlessly interchangeable and, like so many other recipes with peasant roots, much dependent on what was on hand, I felt perfectly comfortable adapting a recipe from The New York Times. Theirs was a wholly Vegetarian take so no pancetta or bacon went into its making. There is no fondness for Kale in this house so out it went. I could have opted for cabbage but instead in went baby spinach. My bread was not stale—rather it was toasted. But I stayed true to the Times cooking method. The soup is made on the stovetop. Then the toasted bread is laid atop, scattered with red onion slices and lots of shredded Parmigiano and baked in the oven. It emerges to make simply beautiful bowls of a soup. And there’s plenty left over to allow you to Rebollita any other night of the week. That according to Artusi makes it even better the second day than the first. Here is the recipe:
An absolutely wonderful winter warmer and in this version, vegetarian ergo perfect for Meatless Mondays...and any other day you want to go meatless.
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 2 cups cooked or canned cannellini beans
- 1 15-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- 4 cups vegetable stock or water
- 1 fresh rosemary sprig
- 1 fresh thyme sprig
- 6 0z. baby spinach
- 4 large, thick slices whole-grain bread, toasted
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
- Step 1 Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot 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.
- Step 2 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.
- Step 3 Fish out and discard rosemary and thyme stems and stir in 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.
- Step 4 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.