As you might have read in my Honeymoon Debrief, we recently spent an amazing week in Florence, and I was inspired by so many delicious dishes. Ribollita was one of my absolute favourites, and I’ve tried to recreate it as faithfully as possible. If you haven’t tried it, ribollita is a really thick, silky soup – so thick it’s nearly a stew, although my version is quite smooth – made with a combination of delicious winter vegetables, bread and the very best olive oil, cooked really slowly, left to sit overnight, and then cooked slowly again (the name literally means ‘reboiled’).
It might not sound like much, but this kind of peasant cooking is full of delicious surprises. In many ways, the expensive ingredients are the easy ones – you spend the money and then they do the rest. The more humble ingredients need to be coaxed, with time and care, to reveal their true potential – but it’s so worth it when they do.
First, a note on the ingredients – this is one of those recipes where everyone’s nonna makes it differently, so I make no claim that this is a definitive, authentic recipe. The restaurant whose ribollita inspired this recipe used sourdough in theirs, which I really liked, so I’ve repeated it here. Cavalo nero is traditional, but it can be hard to find, so I’ve substituted kale, which I think works really well. Finally, I usually tend to use a cheaper blend of sunflower oil and olive oil for frying, but since the olive oil is the only luxury ingredient in this dish, I really encourage you to use it, for proper flavour.
Secondly, as you might have gained from the introduction, this is not a quick recipe – you need to start it the day before, and give it several hours to cook on each day. But the actual effort involved is minimal, and the results are oh so worth it.
- Cannellini beans
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 clove of garlic
- A pinch of fennel seeds
- 2 onions
- 1 courgette
- 2 sticks of celery
- Good-quality olive oil
- 100g kale
- 4-5 slices of sourdough bread
Begin by draining and rinsing the cannellini beans, and boiling in salted water with the bay leaf, the fennel seeds and the garlic clove, peeled and squashed. Leave the beans to bubble for about forty minutes, or until they are nice and soft. In the meantime, peel the onion, and then dice it, the celery and the courgette as finely as you can – you won’t be blending this soup at the end, so everything needs to be chopped up really small to start with.
Add a scoop of butter and a good drizzle of olive oil to a saucepan on a medium heat, allow the butter to melt, and then add your finely chopped vegetables. Stir well and then turn the heat down and let it fry really gently, so that the vegetables just soften and don’t take on any colour. Patience is an essential ingredient for this recipe!
When the timer goes for the beans, drain off the water into a jug and keep it. Pick the bay leaf and garlic clove out and discard, then add the beans to the saucepan with the veg, a splash of the bean water, and the kale. Give it all a good stir.
Next, slice the crusts off the sourdough (you could pulse them in a blender to make breadcrumbs and pop in the freezer, so they’re not wasted) and then tear up the soft middle and pop the chunks into the saucepan. Add another splash of water – but with a light hand, as you really don’t want this to be too watery – and mix vigorously, so that the bread starts breaking up.
Pop the lid on and leave it to simmer gently for one or two hours (you don’t have to be too precise – whatever time you’ve got), then take it off the heat and set aside overnight. This is really crucial for all the flavours to develop together. If it’s summertime, you’ll need to put it in the fridge, but otherwise I’d just leave it on the side.
The next day, two or three hours before you want to serve, put the pan back on a low heat, add a small pinch of salt and let it simmer with the lid on, stirring every now and then, and adding another little splash of water if necessary. You’ll notice that there’s very little salt in this dish, because the original version I tried didn’t have much, and to be honest it was rather refreshing to let the other flavours stand out for a change – so much of our food these days is over-salted. To serve, dish up into bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of parmesan if you fancy.