Real Italian Ribollita

I tend to remember my travel experiences based on what I’ve eaten.  I could be somewhere totally amazing and have crap food and the place would be tainted for me. This also works the other way around, and so Tuscany remains on top of my list.  Not only because it’s amazing as it is, but also because one of the best meals I’ve ever had was enjoyed in the tiny picturesque village of Lecchi, on a candle lit terrace, with the man of my dreams (yes, George Clooney joined me for dinner!), on a warm September night.

We almost didn’t find Malborghetto after taking a couple of wrong turns on the way from our arguturismo in Pianella.  But thankfully we did, and my love for ribollita was born. Ribollita is a a typical Tuscan bread soup and can be vegetarian or include pancetta or other salumi type meat.  I like to think of it as something you make when you want to tidy up your fridge.   Our entire meal at Malborghetto was fantastic, from the ribollita, to the pear and peccorino ravioli I had, to the wild boar stew my husband got.  The chef, Simone, is a hoot, he wanders around to all the tables and chats with his guests.  He must have liked us because we received complimentary glasses of vin santo after our meal.  If you are ever anywhere near Siena, or even Florence, seek this place out, it’s truly amazing!

So I’ve wanted to make ribollita since we returned, and tonight the stars aligned.  I had some leftover kale and white beans from bruschetta I made on the weekend, and half a crusty dried out baguette.  These are staple ingredients in any ribollita.  But really, you can find just about any recipe and make it your own.  I like to cook based on tastes and ingredients I remember rather using a recipe for things like this, but if you haven’t tried the real deal in Italy yet here are some guidelines to help you along the way.

My Real Italian Ribollita

  • 1/2 recipe leftover cannellini beans with kale (from Epicurious) – I used canned beans instead of dried and skipped the whole soaking/adding water bit, I just added them to my kale once it was tender
  • 1-2 carrots, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 12 oz. can tomato puree
  • 1/2 T dried red chilli flakes (use more or less depending on how spicy you like things)
  • 1/2 c. diced pancetta or other salumi (obviously if meat isn’t your thing you can totally skip it without compromising the flavour of the dish)
  • about 4 c. of diced dried bread (baguette works well, leave on the crusts)
  • 2-3 c. chicken stock (depending on how thick you want it
  • 1/2 c. shredded parmesan or other Italian cheese (tonight I used asiago)

Saute your carrot and garlic in some olive oil for 6-7 min. until the carrot is tender, being careful not to burn the garlic.  Add your leftover kale and white beans (or, if you’re doing this from scratch, do the kale part first, and then go from the carrots forward in this recipe, adding the beans when you add your liquids), tomatos, chicken stock and chilli flakes. Simmer this for 10 min. or so.  In a separate saute pan fry up your meat until it’s a bit crisp on the edges, then put it on your soup with any oil from the pan. At this point you can check for seasoning, the meat will add natural salt so you probably don’t need to add much.  About 10 min. before you’re ready to eat add the bread and half the cheese and let it get all soggy.  The bread will drink up most of the liquid so if you want more of a soup you can add more stock.  Once you’re ready to serve it up do a final check and season with salt and pepper, top with the remaining cheese, and you could even throw some fresh basil or parsley on there too.  If you’re feeling really adventurous drizzle a little white truffle oil on top.

Ribollita is the perfect fall one pot meal.  It can be a first course, or a hearty main depending on what you include, and I suspect I will make my co-workers very envious tomorrow, because this is one of those things that I know will taste even better the next day! It’s comfort food on a rainy night, but it can also be fun and elegant in its own way at a dinner party.

So although I can’t pop into Malborghetto for a meal when I want to, the wonderful food there inspired me to follow my heart when it comes to cooking, and reminded me that you can make truly amazing food at home, without having a recipe in front of you.

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