Wednesday, December 27, 2006


My recent trip to Italy has left me craving all things Italian, from black squid ink pasta, to wild boar ragu, to one euro glasses of outrageously good wine. While I don't have easy access to these things, I'm still able to comfort my palate with fresh pasta, Bolognese sauces and the like. A recent cold snap saw me settling my sight upon a hearty soup that I experienced in Florence: ribollita.

"Ree-bow-lee-tah" is peasant food at its best. Born out of hard times, this soup could last for days, getting better all the while: the name literally means "re-boiled". Bits and scraps of leftovers were added to the cooking pot, where the flavors gently merged and ripened over the days. It usually begins life as a plain vegetable soup, or minestrone. The leftovers would be poured over toasted bread at the next meal. Day three saw the actual re-boiling of the soup and any leftover bread. Suddenly, there was a fantastically thick, porridge-like soup that had finally achieved maximum flavor! The recipes vary from person-to-person, but common ingredients include cannellini beans, cabbage or kale and assorted vegetables.

While I'd love to spend several days coddling and cooking a soup, most of my waking hours are spent away from home. When a friend invited my husband and I over for an Italian dinner featuring a classical ribollita, I knew it was time to try out a quick version-- would it compare to the original?

The recipe comes from Giada de Laurentiis' Everyday Italian series. While keeping many ingredients similar to the original, there are little touches such as pancetta, herbs and a Parmesan rind* to pump up the taste. It was extremely easy to make, and just as it finished a half-hour simmer, we packed it up and headed over to our friends.

Side by side, these two little bowls couldn't have looked more different. The original version looked just like what I'd tasted overseas, color-flecked, and thick like porridge. It tasted good, but fell a little flat in comparison to memory, even with the traditional drizzle of olive oil on top.
Giada's take didn't call for any mashing or pureeing, so it was thick with whole vegetables, beans and greens. Yet as different as it looked, the flavor was rich and intense, all the more joyous for the way it melded into a slice of crusty toasted bread. It would seem that all those little shortcuts really added up to a surprisingly tasty soup. Since it's not actually re-boiled, I hesitate to call it a ribollita, but it is indeed a fine homage to hearty Tuscan peasant food.


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus some for drizzling on bread
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4 ounces pancetta, chopped
2 garlic cloves, 1 minced and 1 whole
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 lb frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained
1 tablespoon herbes de provence (I only used one teaspoon, and found it just right)
3 cups chicken stock (I used a roasted chicken stock)
1 bay leaf
1 piece parmesan cheese, rind 3 inches *
4-6 ciabatta rolls, halved lengthwise (or any old bread)
grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, pancetta, minced garlic, salt, and pepper.
Cook until the onion is golden brown and the pancetta is crisp, about 7 minutes.
Add tomato paste and stir until dissolved.
Add tomatoes and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release all the brown bits.
Add the spinach, beans, herbs, stock, bay leaf, and Parmesan rind.
Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Drizzle the ciabatta halves with olive oil. Toast until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven and rub the top of the toasts with the whole garlic clove.
Place the toasts in the serving bowls and ladle the soup over the toasts.
Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately.

from Giada de Laurentiis' Everyday Italian, Episode EI0802

Shelley's notes: I used fresh, chopped Swiss chard in place of the frozen spinach. If doing so, please be sure to wash it out thoroughly, as this is notoriously sandy stuff! Of course, almost any green will work: kale and cabbage would do just fine here. When I make this again, I'll remove half the soup and puree it, adding it back in just in time for the boil. Again, please be cautious about the amount of herbes de provence. While she recommends a whole tablespoon, I found a teaspoon to be just enough, without overpowering the other ingredients.

*I was very please to see Giada make use of one of my favorite cooking secrets! When I get to the end of a wedge of Parmesan or Pecorino, I seal up the rind tightly and keep it in the freezer. It adds a wonderful depth to any manner of soups and stews.

from the Daily Press


Anonymous Anonymous said...

◈ What a great way to prepare and eat food. Luscious and thick. That'll do the trick. ◈

1:53 PM  

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