I have just had a bowl of this unbelievably toothsome ribollita from Tuscany. Two words: simply delicious. Is it eaten only in Italy? Not at all! The ingredients are easy to find everywhere, and a few hits will help you to make it in your own house.
“Ribollita” means “cooked twice” times: actually it is. First vegetables are simmered over low heat, then some stale bread is added and the soup is cooked again: the more cooked it is, the tastier it gets.
A typically winter hot soup from Tuscany, it is commonly composed of vegetables (black cabbage, savory cabbage, beans, celery and carrots), along with stale bread: typical simple ingredients of the poor peasant tradition.
According to the legend, this recipe dates back to Middle Ages when noble people used to have their course in big rolls called in Italian “mense”. When they finished their meal, they gave the leftovers of the bread to their servants who combined it with some poor vegetables and boiled everything: the result was a quiet nutrient and tasty (even tastier than that of the nobles’) soup.
I have encountered plenty of “official” recipes, sometimes very different. You may think some are wrong. No, definitely. This is Italy: very Region, even every city, every family has got their own traditions, methods, all variations are mouthwatering.
Ribollita has got a registered recipe at the “Accademia Italiana della Cucina” and it has also been approved by a notary. This is the super-official recipe a lot of variations springs from, they are all genuine, in my opinion. It is a “living” recipe which is particularly suitable for great personalizations.
As we don’t have to proclaim the most genuine Ribollita, we ‘d better focus on the ingredients and the methods-they are very important as in all Italian recipes. We have to prepare, cook and serve them properly. As this soup can be made with leftover ingredients, you may add winter or autumnal vegetables you have in your fridge- combine them and make your own ribollita.
The essential ingredients:
- Black cabbage is the main actor of the recipe because it gives the soup a rich (slightly spicy) strong taste. It is a winter vegetable with smooth or “curly” fleshy leaves sweeter than cabbage. Buy only cabbages with fresh bright untouched pretty small leaves. Discard the central tough vein, unless the cabbage is very tender (you may recognize it by its texture).
- Bread: the best one is saltless, typical from Tuscany where it is called “sciocco”- (silly bread) or with very little salt, because it guarantees the soup a genuine delicate taste. Opt for very stale and bread with a thick crispy crust; loaves of white silver bread don’t fit at all. Whole grain or cereal or semolina bread is ok;
- Cannellini beans are the best choice because their taste is quite delicate and it doesn’t prevail over the other ingredients. Discard the touched and pale beans, rinse in running water to get rid of any impurities; put them into a bowl and soak for about 12 hours, or overnight in plenty of cold water. After twelve hours drain, rinse and boil beans in water with some rosemary or sage a she original recipe wants; the use of aromatic herbs reduce the gut fermentation.
The basics of the recipe:
- Be patient and allow yourself plenty of time: there are no fast methods;
- Prepare the sautéed vegetables carefully: if the onion gets too brown, the soup will taste bitter; that’s not good, you want your soup rich, delicate and embracing;
- The most genuine recipe of ribollita wants a black cabbage which has been exposed to the winter frost as it makes the leaves more tender.
- The perfect bread is the Tuscan saltless one, but you freely opt for any type of bread with a thick crust;
- Even if it is not part of the traditional method, you may have a creamier soup if you blend the beans;
- Add the salt at the end of the recipe, otherwise the beans would get too tough;
- Opt only for extra virgin olive oil, Italian if you can, and with low acidity; add it raw at the end of the cooking for an unforgettable culinary experience;
- Do not add any stock cubes, or other flavorings; this soup develops its one rich taste;
- You should not add pasta or rice, because bread provides the right serving of carbs in the recipe; it is a main course: carbs from bread, vegetable proteins from beans and plenty of fibers from vegetables!
What’s the soup like?
Nothing says winter like this embracing and rich soup which should be eaten just warm. The texture is soft, the beans must literally melt in your mouth, the taste should be balanced: no one must prevail over the others (unless you want to). It mustn’t taste only tomatoes, or black cabbage, or celery, or aromatic herbs. I like a slight after taste of thyme; but this is up to you.
Italian Ribollita soup- an enchanting recipe: black cabbage, plenty of vegetables, bread and cannellini beans
- 400 gr dry cannellini beans or 750g of canned ones
- 300 gr stale bread with thick crust
- 400 gr black cabbage (in Italy it is sold in heads)
- 400 gr savoy cabbage
- 200 gr chards
- 2 small potatoes
- 200 gr canned peeled plum tomatoes
- 2 small onions
- 2 carrots
- 2 stalks stalks celery
- about 2 lt of vegetable broth or hot water
- extra virgin olive oil (about 5-6 tbsp)
- salt and pepper
- Extra: rosemary (for boiling the beans), fresh thyme, chili pepper (at the end of the cooking)
- On the previous day, soak the beans in plenty of water for at least 12 hour or overnight; one day would be better as they get easier to digest.
- Once tender drain the beans;
- In a pot, heat a little oil with a twig of rosemary, add the beans and cover with water;
- Put on the lid and cook over low-medium heat for about 1 hour. They are done when you can easily smash them with a fork; if they seem to be still tough, cook for 10-15 minutes more;
- Add some salt and remove the rosemary;
- Take half of the beans, and set aside the other half (which will be added whole at the end of the recipe) with the cooking water;
- Blend half of the beans with a hand mixer: you make a kind of broth to cook the soup in; according to the genuine recipe, you should smash the beans in their cooking water;
- Add a ladle of cooking water to make the beans sauce softer and more liquid (if you haven’t saved the cooking water add a ladle of water);
- If you are using canned beans, skip the previous steps: your recipe starts here,
- Peel and finely slice the onion, dice the carrots and the celery;
- Sauté the vegetables in a big stockpot with 3-4 spoons of extra virgin olive oil for about 1 minute;
- In the meanwhile, peel and cut the potato into small dices;
- Add the potato dices to the vegetables and cook for a few minutes (add the thyme to taste; it is not part of traditional recipe; tie it with some kitchen twine, you will remove it easier);
- Sauté for about 1 minute more and add the tomatoes; smash then with a fork and combine well;
- Clean, wash and slice the black and Savoy cabbages, and the chard; add them to the pot;
- Bring the soup to a rolling boil, remove the lid and cook for 45 minutes, stir occasionally;
- Add the cooking water of the beans or the hot vegetables broth;
- When the soup is almost ready (it is thicker and the vegetables are tender) season with salt and pepper;
- Add the reaming whole beans;
- Cover with more hot broth and simmer for 30-40 minutes;
- Season with salt and pepper to taste;
- Let sit the vegetable soup for a while;
- Take a big soup bowl pot and place some coarsely cut bread onto the bottom of the pot, then pour half of the soup, lay other pieces of bread and cover with the remaining soup;
- Put a lid on and set aside to rest (from at least 2 hours until the following day). Let it cool down at room temperate and then refrigerate;
- After the resting time, take the soup out of the fridge: the bread has soaked the liquid and the ribollita looks semi-solid;
- It is time to enjoy your soup: add a couple of ladles of broth and cook for ten minutes to warm up;
- You may add some chili flakes or fresh thyme leaves (this is not in the original recipe);
- Season with little raw extra virgin olive oil;
- The ribollita you have prepared should be eaten very hot, share in with those you love in a gloomy winter day.
Non official variations
I have found a not registered recipe of ribollita in an old cookery book: the method is the same, a few ingredients differ.
Try it, and you enjoy a “second ribollita”, toothsome as well. You need:
200gr of cannellini beans + 200gr of borlotti beans
300gr of chard, 400g of black cabbage, 150g of Savoy cabbage and 150 of spinach.
Use carrots, onions, celery potatoes as in the genuine recipe, but replace thyme with fresh sage when you boil the beans.
For a stronger taste, use 3 spoonfuls of tomato paste along with the peeled plum tomatoes.
Follow the same method of the traditional recipe, and choose the one you like best.
What can you do with leftover ribollita?
Refrigerate ribollita up to 2 days; you may also freeze it. Divide it into single serving containers, but do not add bread. Assemble the soup at the moment of serving it.