Ribollita – A Soup for When You’re Sick (or Not)

Ribollita Tuscan Bean SoupThis week has been a struggle. I don’t know if I caught a cold or the flu or what but I’ve been on NyQuil and DayQuil since Saturday. To make matters worse I infected Cheryl and we were away from home, so traveling back to Chicago bright and early Monday morning was not the most fun thing to do. What does everyone want when they’re sick? Soup. And since we had some leftover ciabatta from last week I felt a big pot of ribollita would fit the bill nicely while we convalesced during the week.

From what I can gather, ribollita is a vegetable soup (minestrone) that is re-boiled (‘bollire’ is the Italian verb ‘to boil’) the next day with the addition of some old bread. So technically, you can pretty much call any leftover re-heated soup a ribollita if you throw in some bread. However, a proper ribollita seems to always have white beans and some sort of hearty leafy vegetable in it like cabbage as well as standard soup vegetables like carrots. I don’t think it’s supposed to have any meat in it but if you have guanciale hanging around in your curing fridge like me you kind of have to add some, no?

Like most soups, ribollita has peasant origins, allegedly servants would take the food soaked bread trenchers and use them as a base for flavoring their soup. If you read about food and recipes, like I do, you start to get a sense that peasants back in the day wouldn’t be throwing out stale bread, as bread was a staple full of protein and carbs. When you don’t have a lot of food you don’t waste it, so they’d use it to the last crumb which would mean throwing it into soup to soften back up. Think about it. There are lots of soup recipes out there today which incorporate a piece of toasted bread. I bet in the original version French Onion soup used stale baguette slices.

This is a big old pot of soup and I intentionally made it large so we’d have something all week-long while we’re sick in case we didn’t feel like cooking anything. If you’re not sick the recipe can easily be halved to give a more manageable amount. I’ve also embraced the idea of using water when making soups so you won’t find any stock in the recipe. By using water I think you get more of the flavors of everything you put in, especially with vegetables, not potentially overpowering stock flavors. And in a sense aren’t you kind of making an unstrained-stock? The broth ends up tasting very veggie with a little bit of sweetnesss from the carrots and onion. The right amount of salt balances it out nicely.

You can really stretch this soup out too, making it a true ribollita. Don’t worry if there are too many vegetables and you start to run out of liquid, just add some more water when and re-simmer to get more flavor. Isn’t that the point? I’ve been lunching on this pot every day so far this week. It’s so good. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take some more DayQuil and heat up some leftover soup.

Ribollita (makes 8-10 servings)

  • 2 C white beans, dried (I used Steuben Yellow beans, see photo above)
  • Water, lots
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 6-8 kale leaves, trimmed and shredded
  • 3 oz gunaciale, diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 can (28 oz) of tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • Salt
  • Old bread

The beans: using the quick soak method add the dried beans to 8 cups of water, add 3-4 big pinches of salt, and bring to a rapid boil for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, remove from burner place lid on pot and let sit for an hour. Drain the beans. Add 8 C fresh water to beans, salt to taste, and simmer over medium heat until tender, about a half hour. Remember to keep testing your beans as I’ve found some beans cook quicker than others. When cooked remove from heat, drain and reserve 4 C of cooking liquid.

In the same pot over medium heat add the gunaciale and cook until some of the fat has rendered. Add 2 Tbs butter, the onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, and cook until softened. Add the kale next and sauté until the kale has wilted some. Pour in 4 C of water and the reserved 4 C of bean cooking liquid. Add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 mins. Add the beans plus 2 more C of water. When the soup starts to boil again reduce heat and simmer for 15 mins. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cut up pieces of the old bread and put in soup bowl. Ladle soup over top and eat.

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