Ribollita (Tuscan White Bean, Kale, and Bread Soup)
The Tuscan stew ribollita is a dish many Florentines would proudly fight for. It is our quintessential winter food: it demonstrates our imaginative use of stale bread; it gives cavolo nero, our traditional winter green, a chance to shine; and it is testament to our love for beans, promoted to a main course, rather than relegated to a simple side dish.
Ri-bollita in Italian means re-boiled, or re-cooked. This name is the secret to the dense and satisfying consistency of the soup: you cook it multiple times so that it becomes so dense you can almost cut it with a knife.
Ribollita is one of the best examples of Tuscan cucina povera, made exclusively with seasonal ingredients—essentially with whatever was growing in the kitchen garden, or that could be foraged in the wild—but more filling than a simple minestrone, a vegetable soup, thanks to the addition of stale bread and beans.
Stale or day-old Tuscan bread is what gives ribollita its structure, while absorbing the soup and all its aromas and becoming soft. The beans, cannellini or toscanelli, go in partially blended, with some left whole, to make the ribollita both creamy and nutritious.
- 3 cups cooked cannellini beans, with their cooking liquid
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 medium potato, cubed
- 1 small bunch cavolo nero (Tuscan kale), toughest parts removed, and cut into strips
- 1/2 small head Savoy cabbage, cut into strips
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 8 slices stale Tuscan bread
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Black pepper
In the bottom of a large pot, sauté the onion with olive oil and a bit of salt (to help it not burn) until golden.
Add the carrots, celery, potato, kale, and cabbage. Cover the vegetables with the cooking liquid from the beans. Add the tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a slow boil and let cook for about an hour, adding more water as necessary.
After an hour, purée two thirds of the beans and add them to the soup. Cook for another 20 minutes.
Add the remaining whole beans, taste and add salt and pepper as needed, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
In a large soup dish, alternate layers of the stale bread and a few ladles of soup. Let sit for a few minutes, then serve it hot or lukewarm.
To create the truly classic ribollita, put the soup, including the bread, in the fridge until the next day. Then, reheat it over medium heat, adding more olive oil and mixing it so that it doesn’t stick. Serve this with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh pepper, and optionally a few rounds of raw onion.