Because of our impending winter weather, I woke up yesterday thinking about soup. Within that same dreamlike state, I remembered a blog I used to visit frequently, looking for healthy recipes, including many for soup. 101 Cookbooks is a California-based food blog written by Heidi Swanson, and the focus of the blog is on healthy recipes for everyday living.
With that catchy name, I easily remembered it, and with my morning coffee, I visited the blog to literally “see what’s cooking.” Looking under “winter” I found an old favorite of mine, a hearty Tuscan soup I first tried and fell in love with more than twenty years ago.
I was in Florence in October of 2000, making a Jubilee pilgrimage with my mom and sister, and we stopped here for a few days before moving on to Cortona, Assisi and finally Rome. On our full day, it was cold and rainy, and after some sightseeing, we went to the Piazza della Signoria for lunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the name of the restaurant, but it was on the Piazza directly across from the Loggia dei Lanzi. Although the weather was messy, we were comfortable sitting outside under a heated tent. When I saw Ribollita on the menu, I knew I was going to order it, not only because it would be a perfect match for the weather, but also because it had been on my list of Tuscan foods to try.
Ribollita has been a part of Tuscan cooking forever, and the name literally means “reboiled.” It begins the day before as a minestrone, and then the next day some bread (also day old) and maybe some additional left-over veggies are added. The whole mixture is heated up and served with a generous dose of olive oil poured on top. Pure deliciousness in a bowl, and on that day in Florence, it was a revelation to me about what food is supposed to taste like. Simple and humble ingredients, prepared with love, can be more pleasing than the most expensive meal you could have.
I could go on and on, but I think I’ll stop now and give you the 101 Cookbooks recipe for Ribollita. The photo was taken yesterday, just before I ate the whole bowl. I hope you’ll give it a try sometime soon.
RIBOLLITA (serves 8-10)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 celery stalks, chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb Tuscan Kale, stems trimmed off and leaves well chopped (note: my store didn't have Tuscan Kale so I used regular kale which worked/tasted fine
4 cups cooked white beans ( I used store brand Cannellini)
1/2 lb crustless loaf of bread (I used a French baguette and included the crust)
1 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
Zest of one lemon (don't leave this out!)
Lots of well-chopped oily black olives ( my store's choices were limited due to Covid, so I settled for sliced Greek Kalamata Olives from a jar, and they tasted great)
In your largest thick-bottomed pot over medium heart combine the olive oil, celery, garlic, carrot and red onion. Cook for 10-15 minutes sweating the vegetables, but avoiding any browning. Stir in crushed tomatoes and red pepper flakes, and simmer for another 10 minutes or so, long enough for the tomatoes to thicken up a bit. Stir in the kale, three cups of the beans and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the kale is tender, about 15 minutes.
In the meantime, mash the remaining beans with a generous splash of water- until smooth. Tear the bread into bite-size chunks. Stir both the beans and bread into the soup. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the bread breaks down and the soup thickens, 20 minutes or so. Stir in the salt, taste and add more if needed. Stir in the lemon zest.
Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate overnight. When you do serve the soup, finish it off with a drizzle of olive oil and some chopped olives.