Tuscan Ribollita – a hearty traditional vegetable, bean, and bread stew

Yesterday was the perfect day to make a big batch of comfort food – a Tuscan vegetable stew called Ribollita. We make this dish during one of the cooking classes with Chef Piero on the Tuscany food tour, but I had yet to make it at home.

You layer cooked vegetables and beans with toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic, and then let it all sit for two hours while the ingredients come to know themselves – they come together deliciously, and the dish becomes more than the sum of its parts somehow.

The full recipe is below, following the photos.

The night before, soak your beans, and then the next morning cook them for an hour or so until tender, so they’re ready to use when you want to start cooking your stew. [I grew Tuscan zolfini beans in my garden this year, so I was excited to use this classic (and hard to find) Tuscan bean in my soup. Tuscans love zolfini beans because they become soft and creamy when cooked, but retain their shape. Cannelini or another white bean of choice can be used instead of course.]

When you’re ready to make your soup, chop up several different kinds of vegetables fairly finely, and sauté them in a large pot in a generous amount of olive oil until soft (reserving some of the raw onions for later).

Chopping up the savoy cabbage

Chopping up the savoy cabbage

Sauteing the vegetables until soft

Sauteing the vegetables until soft

While the vegetables are cooking, divide your cooked beans in half, and run half of them through the food mill (or push through a fine-mesh sieve).

A food mill is still a handy tool to have!

A food mill is still a handy tool to have!

Beans ready for adding to the stew

Beans ready for adding to the stew

Once the vegetables are soft, stir in both the whole beans and the food-milled beans, as well as some water, or broth if you prefer. (The recipe called for using the bean-soaking water, but I worry a bit about doing that, gas-wise…) Bring it to a boil and let simmer for 1 hour. While it cooks, saute the rest of the raw onion, and some garlic, until soft and just turning golden.

The vegetables and beans cooking for an hour

The vegetables and beans cooking for an hour

Sauteing the rest of the onion, and some garlic

Sauteing the rest of the onion, and some garlic

While the soup is cooking, slice your stale bread, toast it, and rub it with a cut clove of fresh garlic.

Stale sliced farm-bread toasting in the oven

Stale sliced farm-bread toasting in the oven

Rub the toast with fresh garlic

Rub the toast with fresh garlic

After the stew has cooked for an hour, turn off the heat, and stir in the onions and garlic. Then you use another large pot (or in my case, the same pot after you pour the stew out of it into a big bowl), put a layer of the garlic toast in the bottom, spoon over some stew, drizzle some olive oil over and grind some fresh pepper, then another layer of the garlic toast, and repeat until all the toast and stew are in the pot, ending with stew on top.

Layering the toast and the stew

Layering the toast and the stew

All layers in!

All layers in!

Then you put on the lid and let the stew sit for 2 hours, while all the ingredients come together. After 2 hours I went to heat the stew up gently before serving, and found that all the liquid had been absorbed!

The liquid had all been absorbed in my stew! So I added a little boiling water.

The liquid had all been absorbed in my stew! So I added a little boiling water.

So I added in a couple more cups of boiling water, stirred it, heated it gently, and served. I grated fresh parmigiano reggiano over the top of each bowl, and drizzled with a good strong olive oil. It was delicious, the bread perfectly soft, and very rich and hearty tasting, yet starting with very plain ingredients.

Recipe follows, enjoy! -Jillian

Tuscan Bread, Bean and Vegetable Soup
(La Minestra di Pane Ribollita)

Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

– 1 onion, coarsely chopped
– 2 zucchini, chopped into small pieces
– 2 celery sticks, chopped into small pieces
– 2 carrots, chopped into small pieces
– 1/2 savoy cabbage, chopped into small pieces
– 20 leaves tuscan kale (also called dinosaur kale or lacinato kale) or swiss chard, chopped into small pieces
– 2 peeled tomatoes (I used 1 small can tomatoes and their juice)
– 250 grams boiled white beans (I started with about 8 ounces (by weight) of dry zolfini beans)
– 1 kg stale tuscan-style bread (I used a hearty farm bread)
– 2 cloves garlic, plus more for rubbing on the toast
– olive oil
– salt and pepper
– 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, optional
– parmigiano reggiano cheese and olive oil for topping

METHOD:

1. Soak your beans the night before, and cook them until soft, so they’re ready for use. Reserve the cooking liquid if you want to add it to the stew later. Chop the onion coarsely. Chop the rest of the vegetables into small pieces, ie, zucchini, celery, carrots, and cabbage. Place half the chopped onion and the rest of the vegetables in a large stockpot, with the dried thyme if using. Add some olive oil and sauté over medium to medium-high heat until soft and well-cooked, stirring often (about 20 minutes). Add half the cooked beans, and puree the rest of the beans by passing them through a food mill, and add to the soup also. Add 8 to 12 cups water (or broth if you prefer, or use the reserved bean cooking liquid). Bring to a boil, then cook for 1 hour on medium heat, partially covered, stirring occasionally. I also added about 2 teaspoons of salt, but the Tuscans use salt quite sparingly so only add salt to your own taste.

2. While the soup is cooking, sauté in a frying pan the rest of the chopped onion and garlic (finely chopped) in olive oil. Also toast the sliced stale bread, and rub a cut clove of fresh garlic over each slice. When the soup has cooked for an hour, stir in the sautéed onions and garlic. Arrange a layer of bread in the bottom of a deep terracotta dish or a large pot with lid. Pour a few generous ladlefuls of the soup over the bread until it is covered, plus a little olive oil and freshly ground pepper.

3. Continue to layer the bread and soup in this way until the dish is full. Cover and leave to rest for approximately 2 hours. Before serving, heat the bread soup mixture gently until hot, stirring well. (My soup had absorbed all the liquid, so before heating I stirred in a couple cups of boiling water.) Serve with extra virgin olive oil drizzled on top, as well as freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, and put out the salt cellar so guests can add salt to their taste.