Friday, November 14, 2008

Italian Comfort Food!

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During an Italian vacation a couple of years ago I spent a few days in Tuscany. The very first day, at lunch in a small restaurant in a small town, I had ribollita. I loved it, and ordered it at least once a day, wherever we were. Each time it was different, but each time it was delicious.

Ribollita means "reboiled." Basically, it is the local version of minestrone, the second (or maybe even third) day. We tend to think of soup as a winter dish, but minestrone and ribollita are on Tuscan menus year round.

We found it in several forms. Sometimes it was in a flat soup bowl poured over a slice of crusty bread. Sometimes instead of bread, there was a round of garlic-rubbed toast. Once it was brought out in a tureen, topped with shaved red onion. The soup had been layered with the bread and the result was a much thicker dish. But my favorite was one that had the toast floating on top of an earthenware bowlful of the soup, sprinkled with fontina cheese and baked, much the same as French onion soup.

Over the years, I've developed a favorite recipe for minestrone, and recently made a big batch. It freezes well, so I like to keep a few quarts in the freezer.

A week or two ago, I was cooking with friends at their house. I pulled a couple of quarts out to thaw, and we made ribollita. It was such a hit that I knew I had to share it with you.

This recipe makes a pretty big batch of soup, so if you don’t care to freeze some, you can cut it in half. Enjoy some as minestrone, and make ribollita the next day, or even a couple of days later.

The Italians would serve this as a first course, but it makes a good casual supper with a crisp salad, followed by fruit and cheese for dessert. A glass of that Tuscan classic wine, Chianti, is the perfect accompaniment, and dinner is done!


2 cups dried cannellini or great northern beans
2 cups dried red kidney beans
5 quarts cold water
1/3 cup good fruity olive oil (preferably Tuscan, of course)
1/4 lb pancetta, cut a little thick, and finely chopped (see note)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
4 stalks celery, including leafy tops, thinly sliced
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped, or 1 tsp dried, crumbled
1 head Savoy or Napa cabbage, cored and shredded
1 bunch kale, thick stems removed and cut into 1/2” ribbons
2 cans (28-ounces each) whole plum tomatoes, crushed by hand, with their juices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Soak the beans overnight in water to cover by a couple of inches. Drain and rinse. Put into a large soup pot with the 5 quarts water and bring to a gentle boil, uncovered, over medium heat. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until just barely tender, 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pancetta, garlic, onion, carrot, celery and fennel. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables start to brown lightly, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage and kale and stir to combine. Add the tomatoes, with salt and pepper to taste and simmer another few minutes.

Add the tomato mixture to the pot with the beans and continue to simmer uncovered until the cabbage and kale are tender, about 30 minutes. Serve in soup bowls with a little more olive oil drizzled over the top. This will make 15-20 servings.

NOTES: Pancetta is the same cut as bacon, cured with spices, rather than smoked, and rolled. It is available in specialty markets. You may substitute thick-cut, not too smoky bacon for the pancetta.

TO MAKE RIBOLLITA: Heat the minestrone. Cut as many thick slices of country style bread as there are people to serve, toast lightly in the oven and drizzle with a few drops of olive oil. Ladle the minestrone into ovenproof bowls. Float the toasts on top and sprinkle generously with shredded fontina or provolone cheese. Bake at 350o for about 30 minutes, or until the soup is bubbling and the cheese on top is lightly browned.


Anne said...

any soup that incorporates kale is tops in my book.

dawn said...

Wow! italian food sounds delicious...mouthwatering photo...i wanna try it..right away i'm gonna get the ingredients from and try it.