If I were to follow my personal preferences in the kitchen, I would create a different soup for every day of the week. I love the comfort of folding my hands around a meal in a bowl and adore the endless possibilities a cast iron pot stewing on the stove provides. The process of cutting, chopping, stirring and simmering wards off the winter chills. But most of all — making soup satisfies my obsession for vegetables.
The following version of ribollita is inspired by two beautiful, leafy greens: rainbow chard and cavolo nero. This recipe has its roots somewhere between Verona and Florence and is inspired not only by a Tuscan icon, but by the rustic country cooking of the regions of northern Italy. Follow it like a road map and make changes according to the ingredients in your pantry.
By the way ribollita is like minestrone. Both are soups filled with seasonal vegetables, generally combined with a nice bean like cannellini, borlotti or fave. What makes ribollita unique is that crusty day-old bread soaks up its broth. What’s more ribollita as I know i,t is eaten at room temperature, glistening with golden olive oil.
This soup is true example of the beautiful expression la cucina povera ma ricca — literally translated as the wealth of the poor man’s kitchen.
- 200 grams of dried broad beans . cannellini or navy beans
- two small red onions . about 200 grams in weight
- two small yellow carrots and two small white carrots . equal in weight to the onions
- one bunch of rainbow chard . about 250 grams in weight
- one bunch of cavolo nero . also known as lacinato kale
- 12 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
- two small zucchini . about 200 grams in weight
- two turnips
- three sweet potatoes
- 75 grams of extra virgin olive oil
- two cans of organic crushed tomatoes
- four sprigs of rosemary
- Celtic sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- two liters water or homemade vegetable broth
Soak the beans in an abundant bowl of water overnight and rinse them well in a colander the following morning. If in a pinch, boil a pot of water and pour in the dried beans. Cover the pot with a lid and a heavy kitchen towel; let the beans swell in the warmth of the water for four hours before rinsing them and getting started with the making of minestrone.
Wash the rainbow chard and separate the leaves from the stems. Chop the stems into a small dice. Wash the cavolo nero and separate the leaves from the tougher stem. Chop them into a small dice and add them to the rainbow chard stems. Set aside both the cavolo nero and rainbow chard leaves in a second bowl until later.
Wash the flat leaf parsley and chop both the leaves and their stems quite fine with a sharp knife. Pick the leaves of rosemary. Lay them on a chopping board. Sprinkle a teaspoon of Celtic sea salt over the herbs, and chop until very fine and wonderfully aromatic. Wash the carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini and turnips. Fill a bowl with cold water. Peel the carrots, sweet potatoes and turnips and keep them in the water bowl while preparing them. This keeps them from discoloring while at work on the chopping board.
Meanwhile, use your vegetable scraps to make two liters of quick vegetable broth. Dice the vegetables into nice bite-sized pieces, keeping each one separate. Cut the onions in half and remove their papery skins. Cut the onions into thin wedges. Heat the olive oil at medium heat in a soup pot large enough to accommodate all the ingredients. Add the onions, rosemary salt and carrots to the olive oil. Stir fry them gently for five minutes. Add the chopped rainbow chard and cavolo nero stems, stirring in the ingredients to coat them with the olive oil. Add the turnips and canned tomatoes to the ever-growing colorful pot of vegetables, allowing them to simmer and soak up the aromatics in the pots for ten minutes.
Last but not least, add the vegetable broth and diced sweet potatoes to the other ingredients. Drop in a spicy red pepper in the pot for if you like. Cook the potatoes in the broth until tender, about 30 minutes. Add some extra broth or water according to your preferred density of vegetables in the minestrone. Turn off the heat and allow the flavors to mingle. The soup will be decidedly better if allowed to cool completely, but should definitely sit on the stove at least one hour after cooking. Gently reheat the soup.
Cut off the top and bottom of the zucchini. Slice the zucchini into the thinnest of ribbons with a julienne or potato peeler. Cut the rainbow chard and cavolo nero leaves into ribbons. Mix the zucchini ribbons and raw leaves in a bowl and toss in a sprinkling of salt, some ground black pepper and a bit of olive oil. Toss to coat with your hands. Fill up individual bowls with a handful of the zucchini-chard-cavolo nero salad. This will give some fresh color and texture to the total picture.Pour over the steaming minestrone.
Serve the ribollita with some fresh leaves of basil. Add slivers of fresh garlic, sea salt flakes, a few cherry tomatoes, lots of black pepper and a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. Brighten all the flavors by adding a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice at the table.
In Tuscany, big chunks of crusty day old bread are added to the ribollita to soak up the broth. It is then served on a plate, as a savory bread pudding. Add any kind of grain, in small amounts, like barley, farro or rice to your pot of glorious soup and enjoy the wealth of a meal made with vegetables.