Ribollita, by Hilary
Yesterday I made Ribollita or Tuscan soup, which is made with stale bread, vegetables, a little bit of stock and water. While I was cooking it, I was thinking about where everything came from. All my vegetables from my friend Mark which are all organic and grown locally. The bread came from a nearby artisan bread maker, and the stock… well… from the grocery store. So, not 100% but it was close. It’s just that I’ve been in London a lot lately and eating at restaurants constantly. Don’t get me wrong, I do love it, but it’s nice to come home and see how easy it is to keep everything local, sustainable, whole and pure. It’s something no one even thinks about here, it’s just a part of life.
I remember when I lived in San Francisco and being very proud of myself for going to the farmers market, recycling my trash and on the days when I composed… well… I might as well have worn a big shiny metal. I was so proud for doing my part in saving the earth. Out here people don’t think of it like that. It’s just how it’s always been done, and not because the earth is being saved, it’s just wasteful to throw anything away. What we don’t use in the garden goes to feed the chickens, the compost goes back out into the field, the manure goes into our gardens and everything is naturally recycled. We generate next to no trash (except for my large collection of wine bottles… but I recycle).
This isn’t to say this country living is right and city living is wrong and causing the breakdown of the planet. Honestly, I’m not even sure I believe in concept of us bad and evil humans destroying the planet. I think that this planet is much stronger than we are and when it wants to cleanse itself it does. Not much we can do about any of it. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing were not tossing our trash out the windows and dumping our overflowing ashtrays on the streets (sorry… just having a vision of my Mom in the 70’s dumping the car ashtray out the window onto whatever lot our car was parked in).
The other thing I have been really interested in lately is the history of food. Where certain dishes come from and why. When I started to research the foods I made I realize most of them came from a time when people did not have much, or any modern-day conveniences (I’m just talking about Europe at the moment). They used everything they had and never threw away an ounce of food. From the lard to the bones to what we would consider compost. Take our Ribollita for example. It was invented by the peasants. They used to reheat the leftover minestrone or vegetable soup from the previous day, add their stale bread and reboil it. Ribollita (as nice as it sounds to us non-Italians) translates to reboiled, or twice boiled (not so pretty anymore is it). I read another story that says the soup was created by the servants back in the Middle Ages. They would gather up the food soaked bread from their masters large suppers then bring them home and boil them up for their own dinners.
I don’t know. I find it interesting. Today people serve it on a menu and charge £12 for it.
Here is the River Cafe’s version that I cooked up. It’s so easy, yummy, filling and great comfort food for these cold nights. And this recipe is enough to feed a small village.
250g cannellini or borlotti beans, soaked overnight with 2 tablespoons of bicarb of soda (you can also use tinned beans as well).
1 large tomato
½ bulb garlic
Handful of fresh sage leaves
1 large bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled & chopped
6 celery stalks
4 medium-sized carrots
4 medium red onions, peeled & chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 x 800g tin peeled plum tomatoes
2kg cavolo nero, stalks removed, leaves coarsely chopped (I used chard but you can substitute with any dark strong leafy green, though cavolo nero is the best if you can get your hands on it)
2 loaves stale ciabatta bread, crusts removed, sliced or torn (I kept the crusts as I’m in the no waste zone at the moment)
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
If you’re soaking your beans over night use this method of cooking the beans: drain the beans well, place in a saucepan, cover with fresh cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, then drain again. Pour in enough fresh water to cover by about 5cm, then add the tomato, garlic bulb & sage. Return to the boil & simmer, covered, occasionally removing any scum that comes to the surface, until tender. Keep the beans in the water they’re cooked in.
In a large saucepan fry the parsley leaves, garlic, celery, carrot and onion in the oil for about 30 minutes until the flavours combine. Add the tomatoes & continue to cook on a gentle heat for a further 30 minutes, then add the cavolo nero and half the cannelloni beans with enough of their liquid to cover. Simmer for 30 minutes.
In a food processor, puree the remaining beans and return to the soup with just enough boiling water to make the soup liquid. Add the bread, a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil, and season well with salt & pepper. As exact amounts are not possible, you must balance the amount of liquid to bread so that the soup is very thick.
You can taste test this as you go along. I ended up adding some vegetable stock as I thought it needed it. Your’s may not. You can add the vegetable stock instead of water, as instructed above.