Here in DC, the roomie and I have been having some cooking adventures. Tonight’s addition to the kitchen repertoire: Ribollita, a Tuscan stew in the true peasant-comfort-food mold, whose name means “reboiled.” The idea is to revitalize stale bread by incorporating it into a soup with hearty vegetables, spices, and a parmesan rind (way to use those leftovers!) so that it turns into something the consistency of oatmeal.
We followed Martha Rose Shulman’s New York Times recipe (reprinted below), based on a friend’s recommendation, with a few modifications. We added a chopped turnip to the carrot and onion mixture, did without the cabbage, used canned beans instead of dry (I sauteed them in a bit of olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper to give them a bit more oomph, and added water and wine to turn it into a soup/stew), skipped the bouquet garni in favor of just shopping the herbs, added rosemary to the mix (per our friend’s recommendation) and a little sage as well (it was getting all shriveled in the fridge), and didn’t bother with all that nonsense about using an immersion blender to really obliterate the bread pieces. As it turns out, the soaked chunks of bread come out like delicious little herby cheesy dumplings if you tear up the bread into bits the size of grapes. We both agree this is the best part.
Incidentally, Ribollita is also the name of an excellent Italian restaurant in Portland, ME, which my husband and I dined at last fall when we were staying up that way, and which we thoroughly enjoyed. It’s just down the block from another Portland gem, Duckfat, which is a great place for a Belgian beer and frites. If you’re in the mood for more delicious, amazing, hearty, comforting fare in a great atmosphere, please climb the hill to eat at Caiola’s. Which is just next door to Aurora Provisions, who catered our wedding reception and who are just amazing. Please try their cardamom butter bars, as well as anything they might be preparing the day you are there. Yum, yum, yum!
from Martha Rose Shulman/The New York Times
6 ounces (1 scant cup) white or borlotti beans, soaked, if desired, for four hours and then drained
1 onion, cut in half
3 large garlic cloves, 1 crushed, the rest minced
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
1 celery rib, diced
Pinch of red chili flakes
1/4 Savoy or green cabbage, cored and shredded (2 cups shredded)
1 14-ounce can chopped or puréed tomatoes, with juice
3/4 pound (1 bunch) Swiss chard, kale or a mixture, stemmed, cleaned and chopped or cut in chiffonade (3 cups chopped greens)
A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf, a few sprigs each thyme and parsley, and a Parmesan rind
6 thick slices country bread, preferably whole-grain (about 6 ounces)
1. Place the beans in a medium saucepan, and add 4 cups water, the halved onion and crushed garlic clove. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add salt to taste, cover and simmer 1 hour. Remove the onion halves. Taste and adjust seasonings.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy soup pot, and add the chopped onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender, about five minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes, and stir together for 30 seconds to a minute until fragrant. Add the cabbage. Cook, stirring, until the cabbage wilts, three to five minutes. Add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes cook down and smell fragrant, five to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
3. Stir in the beans and their liquid, add the bouquet garni and another 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes or until the beans are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add the greens, raise the heat and simmer covered for another 15 minutes. The greens should be falling apart in the soup. Remove the bouquet garni.
4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the bread on the rack, and toast until dry but not browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Break up into pieces. Remove about 1 cup of the beans and vegetables from the soup. Bring the remaining soup to a simmer, and add the bread. Submerge in the soup, and remove the soup from the heat. Let stand for 20 minutes until the bread is soft. Blend, using a hand immersion blender or the pulse action of a food processor. Return to the pot, add the beans and vegetables you set aside, and heat through. The ribollita should have the consistency of oatmeal. Dilute with water as necessary. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Spoon the ribollita into bowls or onto soup plates, drizzle olive oil over each bowl and serve.
Note: You can make ribollita with 5 to 6 cups of any type of leftover minestrone using the bread proportions above.
Yield: Serves four to six.