Friday, January 28, 2011

Tuscan Ribollita

Photo Credit: Stephen Lewis
I was lucky enough to have studied at a small cooking school in Florence. Our "text" was a hodge podge of documents comprised of basically an old Italian grandma telling some stories and doing her best to not be vague about cooking processes that are second nature to her. And from her lips, then translated by someone who is about a 3rd grade English level.

"Ribollita" means "reboiled" because it was originally made by reboiling and jazzing up yesterday's vegetable soup. Today, though, ribollita in Italy is anything but boring. This thick, luscious soup is full of charm, depth, and wintry-stick-to-your-ribsiness.

This is essentially an "empty out the fridge" soup, the kind Meatless Mondays blogger Flynn and I adore. The elements that are aboslutely obligatory are few: torn up bread, cabbage, white beans, and finishing with olive oil.

Here's the recipe, retyped here unabridged so you can enjoy the full flavor of this cookbook.  

From Apicius School of Cooking:

To be traditional, pork cheek ("guanciale") is required, otherwise we can use "pancetta," that is, pork belly.

Ingredients may very according to the market availability, season, and your preference and fantasy.  The only condition: it must be cheap.

To serve 4:

100 g olive oil
50 g pork cheek (DG note: I usually omit this)
250 g onions

1 celery rib

Half black cabbage (or green or red)
2 courgettes (baby eggplant)
150 g peas
250 g potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots
300 g white beans (canned or if using dried, soaked and boiled for 2 hours) (DG note: I usually use 1 can of white beans, and do not rinse them, the starchy sauce is good for binding the soup.)
250 g tomatoes (DG note: peeled, seeded if you like, canned is fine)
250 g stale bread (DG note: toasted will work, but a 2 day old tuscan pane is best--or ciabatta)
Optional additions: parsnip, fresh spinach, zucchini, corn, mushrooms...anything.
salt and pepper

In the original recipe, the slices of stale bread must be layered with the vegetables; the soup must rest for half an hour to let the bread be soaked.  Somebody preferred toasted and still crisp bread at the last minute, but it is not the same!

Mince onion, celery, basil, parsley, pork cheek, and make them to brown.  Add the black cabbage torn leaves, cover the pot and let them to cook some minutes adding warm water. (It would be better to use the water where the beans have boiled.) Add cut carrots, potatoes, courgettes, peas, and tomatoes.
(DG note: I dont go heavy on tomatoes because their color really throws the soup, I prefer it whiteish/green/taupe. At this point, I also add spinach and whatever other wildcard vegetables I'm using.) Salt and let the soup to cook for about 1 hour, adding water. At the end, add half beans and the other half after having passed them. Stir. Slice the bread and put on the bottom of a tureen; cover with soup. Repeat till the soup is finished. Let the soup to rest.  You may add an oil tread and pepper on the dish.

DG note: I prefer tearing rough pieces of the bread and adding it to the soup while simmering. I let it all simmer for about a half hour because I like the bread nice and mushy, almost dumpling like. Die-hards do the layering thing.  The bread is just there to thicken and disguise what is essentially a poor mans soup.


flynn said...

This recipe is perfect. I have such good memories of getting to my freezing cold, empty new apartment with a week 'til the furniture arrived and having you knock on the door with this. This, in a crock pot so we could heat and eat it later, along with plastic bowls, napkins, spoons, and extra Fiesta bread. Love you - can't wait to make it again, soon!

Denise said...

Aww, what a sweet memory! I had a lot of fun planning that meal on wheel(s) for you guys--I remember being SO thrilled you were joining me in Dallas. I just made this soup again tonight, maybe you'll move to Detroit? I added a parsnip and some spinach leaves...yum yum.