Ribollita (Tuscan White Bean Soup)
January weather has returned and with it I’m more inclined to make soups and stews. With the warmer weather we’ve had more variety at the market than this time last year, but it’s still the season for greens. Although I love all sorts of greens, occasionally I like to try something new with them, even if it’s just a slight change from an old recipe. I had some lacinato kale from the market and searched online for recipes to see if anything caught my eye. I found a recipe for Ribollita, a Tuscan bread soup. Pretty appropriate for a Tuscan kale!
I’ve made white bean and kale soups before, but this one has enough variations to make a pleasant change. This one has more vegetables than I’ve used in similar soups before, along with a fresh lemon olive oil topping. This topping is optional, but highly recommended by both the original recipe author and my family.
The recipe has several variations: meat, vegetarian, and vegan. I opted for the vegetarian version and added a small bit of parmesan rind to the soup as it cooked. I also added a bit of the rind of the end of a wedge of Gruetli from Sequatchie Cove Creamery to the vegetable broth I made to add to the soup. The More with Less Cookbook recommends using up cheeses that have dried out a bit as you would Parmesan cheese so I thought I’d try it that way. It’s a yummy broth!
One thing I wish I had done is parboil the kale. Normally that’s what I do, but I figured the long slow cooking of the soup, plus the fact that kale is usually milder in winter, would keep the flavor mellow. It was actually a bit strong. I’m going to guess it’s a combination of the amount of kale (a good bit!) and the fact that we haven’t been having winter weather. I’ve seen some bolting veggies at market, likely due to the warmer weather we had for a while. The kale didn’t have flowers with it, but it has a stronger flavor I associate with bolting greens. Try yours before throwing it in the soup and see how strong it is and treat it according to your preferences.
Although this soup is traditionally thickened by bread (a good use for dry bread), you can leave the broth thin, or thicken it with some of the beans (puréed). I chose to use an extra can of beans and smush some of them against the side of the pot.
Check out the options (I list my choices below the recipe) to make it your own, then use your market greens to make a comforting soup that will get better as the week goes on.
Tuscan White Bean Soup
From Feasting at Home
1/8 cup good olive oil
1/4 pound large diced pancetta or bacon (optional – sub Parmesan rind in the broth)
2 cups diced onions
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced fennel bulb (or sub celery)
4-6 cloves garlic, rough chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, more to taste
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
2-3 medium tomatoes, diced (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
6 cups chopped lacinato kale
Splash white wine
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (or use veggie stock)
3 cups cooked cannellini beans – or use 2 cans cannellini beans (drained, minced), or great northern white beans
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
Grated pecorino or Parmesan – optional
Rosemary Lemon Garlic Oil-
½ cup good olive oil
zest of one large lemon
4 cloves garlic, sliced
few sprigs rosemary (or thyme, sage)
Make the Lemon Garlic Rosemary Oil – place all ingredients in a small jar or bowl and let sit on the counter (or make the day before, refrigerating)
In a large, heavy bottom pot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.
Add onions and pancetta and sauté 6-8 minutes.
Lower heat to med-low and add the carrots, fennel (or celery) and garlic, salt, pepper and chili flakes, and cook another 7-9 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
Add the tomatoes and lacinato kale, and a splash of white wine, and continue sautéing and stirring occasionally for 7-8 minutes.
Add the stock and beans.
NOTE: If you like a thicker soup, blend or purée 1 cup of the beans with a little of the stock, to thicken the soup. Or, thicken it with day-old bread, torn into small pieces and cooked with the broth. (I prefer a brothier version of this soup, so I skip this part and serve with toasty bread on the side instead.)
Bring to soup to boil, turn heat down and simmer for 15 minutes.
You could add a Parmesan rind to the simmering soup for extra depth of flavor.
Stir in fresh Italian Parsley.
Adjust salt if necessary.
Serve in bowls with a drizzle of the flavorful lemon oil, grated Parmesan (or Romano) and crusty bread.
Notes from Heather:
I used fresh thyme and a Meyer lemon in my lemon olive oil. That’s what I had on hand and I prefer thyme over rosemary.
I did not use pancetta, but I did use a small amount of Parmesan rind. I added some roast pork to my bowl of soup.
I used celery (again, what I had on hand) and added chopped fresh fennel fronds when I added the fresh parsley.
I used nomato paste in place of the tomato.
I used an extra can of beans and smushed them against the side of the pot to thicken the soup.
Printable recipe here