An icon of Tuscan cuisine, Ribolitta is a classic peasant style soup that looks more like a stew than a soup. A thick hearty potage of beans, winter vegetables and day-old bread, the soup used to be made from the leftovers of other dishes, which is how it got it’s name — 'Ribolitta' is Italian for 'reboiled'. There are many variations of the dish, but the main ingredients always include leftover bread, cannellini beans and inexpensive vegetables such as carrot, cabbage, beans, onion and cavolo nero, a Tuscan back leaf kale essential for an authentic Ribollita, however robust greens such as swiss chard, savoy cabbage or kale work just as well. Although the soup doesn't take long to cook, adding the ingredients in stages helps it to develop a fuller, more complex flavour. A perfect cold weather meal, Ribolitta embraces the heart and soul of peasant cooking.
1/2 pound dried or canned cannellini or barlotti beans
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for serving
1/4 pound large diced pancetta or smoked bacon
2 cups chopped leeks
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup zucchini, chopped
3 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
4 cups coarsely chopped or shredded savoy cabbage
4 cups coarsely chopped kale or swiss chard
1 cup diced fennel
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 cups stale sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino, for garnish
In a large bowl, cover the dried beans with cold water by several inches, seal with cling film and refrigerate overnight. For canned beans, rinse and drain before using.
Drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 8 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the beans are tender. Set the beans aside to cool in their liquid.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large stockpot. Add the pancetta and onions and cook over medium-low until the onions are translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, a tablespoon of salt, the pepper, and red pepper flakes, and cook for another 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes with their purée, cabbage, kale and basil, and cook stirring occasionally, for another 8-10 minutes.
Drain the beans, reserving their cooking liquid. Purée half of the beans with a little of their liquid, in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, then add to the stockpot, along with the remaining whole beans. Pour the bean cooking liquid into a large measuring cup and add enough chicken stock to make 8 cups. Add to the soup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the bread to the soup and simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve hot in large bowls sprinkled with Pecorino and drizzled with olive oil.