BEAN SOUP FROM TUSCANY
Preparation - Needs time (beans soak 8 hours, long stove time)
Serves 4 - 6
Ribollita means 're-cooked' in Italy, and slow cooking is the secret of this hearty winter vegetable soup designed for wood stoves or back burners. There are many different recipes, but most Tuscan recipes call for cavolo nero - black leaf kale - the closest substitute being savoy (green, crinkled, loose-leafed) cabbage - and cannelini - tuscan white beans - the closest substitute being Great Northern beans.
I have used green cabbage and Brussels sprouts with success. Most recipes call for the leek, onion, carrot, celery and tomato. You can use any other vegetables you might have at hand. You can also add more vegetables and water on succeeding days, cook for about an hour, and serve a new version.
Good quality olive oil is also important.
- 1 cup (dried) cannellini or Great Northern beans
- 1 head of cavolo nero (black-leaf kale) (or 1/4 head green cabbage, 6 or more Brussels sprouts, etc.) shredded (sliced very thinly)
- 1/4 head of Savoy cabbage - shredded
- 1 bunch of Swiss chard - shredded
- 1 leek - chopped fine
- 1 onion - chopped fine
- 1 large carrot - chopped fine
- 1 large celery stalk including leaves - chopped fine
- 2 peeled plum tomatoes, ripe or canned - diced
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine (optional)
- 1/2 dried hot chili pepper -pepperoncino- (optional)
- 2 potatoes (optional) - diced
- 2 zucchini (optional) - diced
- 2 - 3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil (use more if you like)
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, or leaves from one fresh sprig, chopped fine (optional)
- 1/2 tsp dried or fresh oregano (optional)
- salt and pepper
- Italian or French bread one or two days old (optional variation)
- Water - enough to cover and add - remember that the taste of the water can also affect the way your 'ribollito' will taste.
SOAK the beans in plenty of water for 8 hours or over night. Drain and rinse.
- IN A large casserole or cast iron or cast aluminum pot, with a cover and a thick bottom (one variation calls for putting the soup in the oven for 1/2 hour, so consider this when choosing your cooking vessel), heat the olive on a bit more than medium heat - you want to sautee the ingredients slowly until the onion is transparent or lightly golden NOT browned - add the chopped onion, carrot, celery, leek, optional garlic and chili pepper, stirring often until the onion has turned color (about ten minutes, depending on the heat)
- ADD the tomatoes, cabbage and the beans, more olive oil if you wish, and stir well to mix the ingredients.
- ADD the optional rosemary/oregano, a pinch of salt and ground black pepper to taste and mix again.
- ADD enough water to cover the ingredients by about 1/4 inch.
- BRING to a very slow simmer and cook, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours or until the beans start to soften.
- ADD water as necessary to keep the ingredients just covered. (for a 'soupier' soup, keep the water level a bit higher).
- ADD the optional diced potatoes/zucchini (you can also do this on the following day if there is soup left over, to give it a new taste) - cook for another hour, until potatoes are cooked. Longer cooking softens the ingredients and blends them more.
- THE soup can stand for a few hours in a cool kitchen and be re-heated for the meal. The longer it lingers, the better it gets, and some recipes call for refrigerating the soup, covered, over night and serving it re-heated the next day.
VARIATION: A Tablespoon of good olive oil on top of each serving.
VARIATION: Prepare a 'soffrito' - sauté some onion, carrot, celery a minced clove of garlic in olive oil in a separate pan and stir in to the soup at about a half hour before serving. After adding the 'soffrito' some recipes call for thinly slicing a red onion on top of the soup, then putting the cooking vessel, uncovered, in the oven at 350 degrees F. for about a half hour before serving.
VARIATION: Spoon out up to half the soup and puree it by running through a 'mouli' or food mill, a food processor (a few bursts) or forcing it through a coarse sieve with the back of a wooden spoon; return the puree to the soup - makes for a much thicker version.
CHEESE is not served with this soup in Tuscany, but suit yourself.
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