Ribollita (also written Ribolita—with one ‘l’) is a classic Italian vegetable-and-bread soup (or more of a stew?). I have had it multiple times, see it regularly on cafes all over town (I am currently living in Florence, Italy). In fact, I have two favorite ‘stand-up-and-eat’ lunch windows—and one of the best bowls of Ribollita I have ever eaten, came from one such window.
As with ANY Italian recipe, there are as many versions of a dish as there are cooks to cook them. I hear that recipe interpretation is the source of hotly contested debate, antiquated loyalties and age-old disagreements about which is the right recipe for lasagna, ribollita, focaccia, bolognese, ragu… This could provide popcorn-eating entertainment, vein-popping excitement or tears in your soup—depending on which camp you are in.
But seriously. I have wanted to make ribollita for some time, and finally put pen to paper cabbage in the pot. Cabbage you say? That isn’t right. It is according to most recipes; I ogled then commingled recipes from Mario Batali, Barefoot Contessa, Our Italian Table, from Sunday’s Soup, Zoe’s Cuisine, this straightforward version from RootsLiving and La Dolce Bacon (who also uses Parmesan rinds!). And in the end did what cooks do: I personalized it, stamped it, registered MY version as a trademark and called all my friends and family to ascertain their level of loyalty. Okay, that’s not true either. But don’t you just love how recipes evolve, and you can use the combined brilliance of any, all or none of them at any time? I can use what I like, skip a step, add something else, shorten—or lengthen—the cooking time, and pucker my face while trying to recount what was so special about that ‘ribollita-from-the-window.’
Today, this was my ribollita. It was fantastic. I will make it again, though I reserve the right to tweak it, change it, forget something, spice it up or down… and add whatever else is hanging nonchalantly inside my fridge.
1 small can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2-3 T olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
small diced pancetta (optional)
1 small onion (a leek too, if you have one)
cabbage (many use black cabbage, kale, swiss chard…) stems removed, roughly chopped
zucchini (just because I had some… though I didn’t see it in other recipes)
bay leaf (oops, forgot)
red pepper flakes, S&P and Italian herbs
(thyme if you have it)
1/3 cup basic tomato sauce (I put in 3 T tomato paste this round)
1-2 cups water
1-2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
3-4 slices rustic bread (I use my leftover focaccia)
optional: Parmesan rind
Heat oil in stockpot; over low add onions, garlic and pancetta for 5 minutes. Then add carrots, celery, zucchini, seasonings for 10 minutes. Add cabbage/kale/greens and give a good mix. Add tomato sauce/paste/canned tomatoes. Let cook 10 minutes. Puree half of white beans (I used a food mill); add puree, beans and stock/water to cover (and rind, if using). Simmer for 20 minutes. Add 1/2 inch cubes of bread (crusts removed if too hard), let simmer 10 more minutes. Ladle and serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of your best olive oil (if I would have used kale or black cabbage, it would have added some fantastic color to the dish).
The Dutch in me LOVES Ribollita because it makes use of day-old bread. So efficient, responsible, ingenious. Really this could be called ‘leftover soup,’ or counter-top, kitchen-sink or fridge-raid soup. Leftover potatoes? Some extra spinach? A few stray greens or tomatoes? Toss ’em in. Grab some table vino and call it lunch.