Ribollita, revisited

So it’s wintertime again, and that can only mean one thing.

(Well… it actually means a lot of things, like wool socks and extra comforters and, lately, matinees. But I know you know what I’m thinking…)

It means soup. And I feel like it’s safe to say that the Official Soup of Winter 2010-2011 is ribollita.

Ribollita is peasant food. Ribollita translates to “reboiled” in Italian, because you first boil the beans (traditionally), then boil the whole shebang again later. Ribollita is beans and cabbage and whatever soupish vegetables you’ve got lying around (because wintertime also means buying 5-pound bags of onions and carrots and working your way through them, only sometimes creatively). Ribollita is cheap as hell and gets better as it sits. Ribollita is versatile – the original recipe I used, by Mario Batali, called for leeks and potatoes, in addition to a silly bundle of fresh herbs that one is to remove before serving. Over the course of the last four batches, I forgot the leeks and potatoes once, then ditched the leeks indefinitely because I don’t know any peasants, Italian or otherwise, who can find a halfway decent leek in the middle of a Chicago winter, and honestly they didn’t really add much to the finished product. I did pick the potatoes back up, and that ridiculous bouquet garni (again, what peasant does a bouquet garni???) has been traded for stripping the herbs off their stems, whole, and left in the soup to simmer into oblivion. So there.

(Don’t Get Me Wrong: Or, a note about Mario Batali: I do actually like Mario Batali very much. I like that he makes simple Italian food taste amazing and look really sexy but honest [like me!] [heh], but I think sometimes when you’re a Really Big Deal your common sense abandons you while you’re picking out new orange Crocs.)

The first time I made this soup, it was for Break & Enter Monday a few months back, when Danny was sick and I was off work for the day and craving a long, relaxed afternoon in a kitchen. I had some pantry veg and an idea to make something very hearty and well-making, and kind of new. I followed Batali’s recipe exactly, down to the garlic toasts and a few shaves of parmigiano. Since then, this soup has been made for special occasions, like a New Year’s Eve potluck dinner party, served with a fat, lofty Italian loaf and some hard sheep’s cheese. It’s also been a weekday workhorse that, even after eating it for lunch 4 times in a week, is hard to stay mad at. It’s been made using water and using vegetable stock. It’s been made in a 10-quart stockpot (OH HAY best Christmas gift ever), a 5-quart pot originally belonging to my grandfather’s stepmother, and a bazillion-quart beast of a pot with about a 3-foot handle originally belonging to my grandfather’s birth mother. It’s been made with bits of spicy Italian sausage, and it’s been made with zero meat and double kale. I’ve made it almost every other week for the last two months.

This sort of consistency and dependability is nice, because 2011 is already getting off to a bustling, sometimes wonky, start. As I write this, I’m searching for bed & breakfasts in southern Michigan for a weekend getaway in February, making an appointment for a much-needed haircut, cleaning a colony of Weird Glasses Schmear off of my new (AWESOME) glasses, and slipping into the living room for 15 minutes at a time to watch Rachel Zoe on Bravo. (What.) I’m not at my apartment, I’m at Danny’s. I’m not on my computer, I’m on Danny’s. My laptop bit the dust just before Christmas and it’s unclear as yet whether it can be resurrected or if I need to let ‘er go and pony for a new one. I move into this very apartment in three months and underneath the logistical pains in the tuchus – cleaning out my closet and confronting years of questionable shoe/bag/clothing choices, leaving my beloved neighborhood and all of its surrounding streets and haunts, figuring out what to do with a veritable Noah’s Ark of housewares and furniture once the households combine – is this weird bubble of excitement and calm and happiness. Excited to finally do this, calm in no small part because two households and two parts of town and two everyday lives will just, finally, be under one roof, and happy that it all feels so steady and sure and welcome.

But in the meantime my resolution stands. It’s a modest one, but my goal for now is to start blogging again, once a month. The blog will be the same as it’s always been; it will be about food and about the kinds of everydayness that bring me into the kitchen (whether it’s mine or Danny’s). There will be photos again once I have a halfway decent technology setup (i.e. not now; i.e. once I get a laptop up & running), but for now we’re going back to the old school. ‘Cause I’m a old fool. Who is, of course, so cool.

You’ll just have to trust that it looks – and tastes – as good as it sounds.

And in the meantime, I suggest you give yourself over to the making and eating of the Best, Most Comforting Winter Treat I’ve encountered in a long time. Get out a long wooden spoon, pin back your hair, turn on the album of Italian accordion tunes your grandmother gave you. It’s very rewarding, I promise.

(a quick note: all of these ingredients are completely flexible. If you’ve got 4 carrots that are on their last legs, throw all of them in. If your onion is mutantly large, it’s okay. If you insist on putting leeks in every last thing you eat, regardless of season, size, or quality, I certainly won’t fault you for it. Put ’em in, coach.)

  • 1 medium white/yellow onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic, or more if you’re into it. (You’ll need one of these to rub across the toasts.) (That’s what she said.)
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 ribs of celery
  • 2 waxy potatoes/ (Yukon Golds work fine for this, but if you’ve got other varieties available, go for it.)
  • 1-2 bunches Tuscan/lacinato/dinosaur/black kale. (For God’s sake WHY does this kale – my favorite of all the leafies – have 67,000 names???) (I say 1-2 bunches because I adore kale and especially if you’re making this soup vegan/vegetarian, you’re well-advised to bulk it up with the good stuff.)
  • 1/2 head white cabbage. (Don’t worry, the other half will keep for a week or two in the fridge – just in time for your next batch. If you see spots on the outer leaf, just peel that bitch off and chop up the rest.)
  • 2 cans cannellini beans – NOT drained!
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 shitload vegetable broth (ideal) or water (not ideal, but perfectly serviceable). I avoid exact measurement here because it sort of depends on how brothy you want your soup and how big your pot is. If you want more of a thick stew to serve over toast, use less liquid. If you want something more brothy, use more. I like a consistency somewhere in between. Especially if you’re using broth, the soup is so flavorful that the brothy part is just as enjoyable as the chunks.
  • Your trusty bottle of olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional: a few energetic shakes of red pepper flakes.
  • Optional: 1 pound mild or spicy Italian sausage, casings removed. If I’m using sausage in this I usually do 1/2 pound of each. You can also totally use Italian turkey or chicken sausage if you like.
  • Optional: 1 big-ass Parmigiano rind, for simmering.
  • Optional: 1 hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or a hard Pecorino (not Romano) for grating.
  • Optional: a few slices of crusty bread.

In terms of hardware beyond a knife and cutting board, you’ll need the following:

  • An enormous pot. Aim for an 8-quart daddy, if you can.
  • A long spoon that will reach the bottom of that pot while still affording you some decent leverage – you’ll need this when you add the kale & cabbage.

So now do this:

  • Chop everything but the garlic. Mince that, except for one clove, which you should just cut in half.
  • If you’re using sausage, brown that in the bottom of the pot you’re using. Once it’s cooked, put it in a bowl and set aside.
  • Saute the onions and garlic in a swish of oil for about 10 minutes at medium heat – until the onions are translucent and tasty-looking.
  • Add the carrots, garlic, potatoes and herbs, and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the kale and cabbage. This is where your long spoon and your elbow really get called into service. These will wilt down as they heat, and you’ll help this along by getting them closer to the heat source (i.e. the bottom of the pot). With your spoon, shimmy the other vegetables from the bottom to the top, and let the kale & cabbage tumble to the bottom. Let this cook down for another 10 minutes or so.
  • Add the beans AND their bean-water-stuff, and the broth or water, crank the heat to high, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Once you do that, simmer that bad boy for 45 minutes or so.
  • In the meantime! And if you’re making those garlic toasts!: heat your oven to 300. Rub the halved garlic clove across each slice of bread, then throw them into the oven. Let the bread toast for a while, the time depending on the heat of your oven and the staleness/freshness of your bread. I like it to get nicely dried out so that it’s still got some texture when I pour the soup over it, and for me this generally means 20 minutes in the low oven. You can also just put the bread in the toaster – the only difference is that it just won’t get dried all the way through.
  • When the soup is done simmering, fish out the bay leaf, or leave it in and invent a game in which the person who gets the bay leaf in his or her soup is the winner of a tour of dishwashing duty. Or a cocktail. Or both.
  • Serve the soup over the toasts, or alone. Grate some cheese over it if you like. I also like a few grinds of black pepper over top of everything, as well as a bit of red pepper flake if I didn’t put it in the soup.

See you next month. Or maybe sooner. In any case, hopefully with something that’s not soup. (I’ve been getting way into bean salads lately, if that’s any indication…)


  1. So glad you're back…will be looking forward to next time. 🙂

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