Meaning “twice boiled”, ribollita is a bread-based soup originating from Tuscany.
Said to have been prepared in Tuscany since the Middle Ages, the historical ribollita recipe came from the necessity of reusing stale bread, mixing it with cheap herbs and vegetables available in the garden in what’s effectively re-boiled minestrone or vegetable soup from previous days. Traditionally, the dish was typically prepared on Fridays and consumed for up to seven following days, embellished with chunks of crusty bread added to the soup before being served.
Like much of Tuscan cuisine, ribollita has peasant origins, as part of the ‘cucina povera’ tradition of humble, inexpensive dishes containing whichever ingredients would have been available at the time. In modern recipes, however, cavolo nero (also known as Lacinato kale), beans, and bread are absolutely essential.
While a version of the recipe is said to date back to Middle Ages, the first written ribollita recipe was published in 1931 on the gastronomic book ‘Guida Gastronomica d’Italia del Touring Club’. The recipe featured is naturally vegan, but in modern recipes it’s common to use animal protein to make the soup richer.
A thick, hearty, stew-like soup, ribollita is also made several days in advance, allowing the flavours to steep. This ribollita recipe can be eaten straight away, but it tastes even better when reheated the following day. In addition to cavolo nero, cannellini beans and crusty bread, the recipe uses vegetables such as onion, carrot, and fennel for its base, plus pancetta, chicken stock, and a parmesan rind to add even further depth of flavour. The pancetta and parmesan can be omitted however, with the stock substituted for vegetable to make the dish vegetarian. Once ready to serve, the ribollita is optionally finished with a dusting of grated parmesan (to taste) and a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil.
- 8 slices pancetta or smoked streaky bacon chopped
- 1 onion diced
- 2 medium carrots diced
- ½ bulb fennel diced
- 6 cloves garlic finely sliced
- 3 medium tomatoes diced
- 400 g cavolo nero/Lacinato kale stalks removed and roughly chopped
- 2 tins cannellini beans drained
- 200 ml white wine
- 1.5 l chicken stock
- Parmesan rind
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 85-100 g crusty bread torn into squares
- Small bunch fresh parsley chopped
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Parmesan or pecorino to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to 160C/Gas 3.
- Place the bread on a baking tray and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Place in the oven and cook for 5-10 minutes until lightly toasted, checking and turning often to prevent burning. Once toasted, set aside.
- While the bread toasts, add a drizzle of oil to a large, heavy-based saucepan or Dutch oven and heat until shimmering. Add the diced onions and chopped pancetta, then cook over medium-low heat for 4-5 minutes until the onions are soft but not coloured.
- Add the carrots and fennel and continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes until the onions and bacon begin to colour. Decrease the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for five minutes or so until the veg is soft and begins to colour. Add the garlic, salt, and chilli flakes, then continue to cook for another minute or two, stirring often, until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes and cavolo nero to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook for a minute or two stirring often until everything is combined, then pour in the wine to deglaze the pan. Increase the heat and continue to cook until the wine has reduced by approximately 2/3.
- Add the stock to the pan alongside the beans and parmesan rind, bring to the boil then decrease the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the toasted bread to the pan and stir to combine. Continue to simmer for 5-10 minutes.
- Stir in the parsley, taste for seasoning and add more salt or chilli if necessary.
- Serve the ribollita in bowls, topped with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and grated parmesan.
- Leftovers are delicious when re-heated and will keep in the fridge for 5-7 days.
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