Friday, March 1, 2013

Ribollita - (Or at least veggie, bean and bread soup)

Lately I have been getting into beans. I’ve never been a huge lover of the legumes, and am not sure how well my body responds to them, but I’ve been getting into them anyway. These days I like to buy a bag of dried beans and soak and simmer them myself. It’s not a complicated process. I soak them overnight on Friday. On Saturday I let them simmer while I do my morning chores. I add a halved onion, some sprigs of herbs, and some fatback and/or any pork or beef bones I have lying around, and let them do their thing for an hour or so. I freeze them in small batches so I have them for chili, soups, or quickie meals of rice and beans. I also save the cooking liquid for soup bases. One of these days I want to develop my own baked beans recipe. I need someone to invite me to a barbecue where I can bring some homemade baked beans.

I have experimented with two or three soups using my beans and my bean stock, but one soup I have never made is ribollita.

I only had ribollita once in my life. That was when I was in Italy, experiencing true Tuscan country cooking. I remember how after a morning spent riding through mediaeval villages and expansive vineyards, my fellow riders and I relaxed on the clubhouse porch with our Italian hosts and ate ribollita for lunch while drinking red wine and watching the horses graze in the field. Like all of the dishes I ate on that trip, it was homemade and heavenly. It would be hard to beat a memory like that, but I could at least make a tasty soup, even if it wouldn’t be quite as tasty as Sadio’s.

Authentic ribollita is a long and drawn-out process. It is a practical soup made of leftovers and whatever is around the house, developed over a period of a few days. The idea is you start with a vegetable soup and then you keep mixing and cooking the soup with your leftover stale bread. It comes from the practical Italian peasant belief that one should waste nothing. I have a great cookbook showing many typical Italian peasant dishes and ribollita is one of them. First you make a minestrone type of soup. The next day you layer it with bread. The next day the soup and bread are baked in the oven. On the final day you have the actual ribollita that you make into patties and grill.

My ribollita wasn’t going to be like that. I was going to make it all in one night. I was going to make it as an actual soup. Perhaps I shouldn’t be calling it ribollita. I should have called it Zuppa di Pane, Fagioli, e Verdure.

I’m not giving a recipe. This is the kind of soup everyone needs to simply improvise in his or her own way. My method is just suggestions, not instructions.

I started by cooking up some Italian chicken sausage and then removed it. This is one of the main differences from authentic ribollita, which I never saw contain meat.  I  just wanted to up my protein levels for this meal.

Next came a diced onion, which I softened up in a mixture of butter and olive oil.  I followed it with plenty of minced garlic.

I added about 6 shredded carrots and and let them cook down.I meant to add some shredded zucchini too, but my zucchini had been hanging around the fridge too long and had gone soft.

My bean stock went in and then I whirled a half a small round loaf of Italian bread in the food processor. This went into the soup next along with the beans, which were stirred in very gently. Then I added a bag of fresh spinach and several basil leaves and finally the turkey sausage went back into the pot.

I realize I should have added the delicate beans after the spinach had cooked down so I would have done less damage to them.

I let that all cook together for an hour or so. I served it in big bowls with grated pecorino and a drizzle of my best olive oil on top.

It might not be the most authentic three-day ribollita, but it was a delicious soup anyway.  I can't wait to keep experimenting with this.


Emily said...

OH my gosh. You are a genius! This looks so good! I've never had Ribollita, but now I'm craving it. I like that you used chicken sausage. That sounds delicious. This might be good with some cubed butternut squash, too.

Rosemary said...

That looks seriously divine! And what a lovely memory. Bet it almost takes you back. I love these kinds of concoctions. You're really creating something special.

Blond Duck said...

Ben would LOVE this. I love the idea of using bean broth for soup bases. I just redid my grandmother's baked bean recipe the other day and it was delicious!