Ribollita is serious peasant food. It’s an Italian white bean soup that would likely be reheated a few days running, and probably have whatever veg came to hand thrown in over that period. It’s hale and warming enough for winter, but I also find the flavours light enough for a late summer supper. The thick croutons of toasted, garlicky oiled bread really help there.
You can find a good basic recipe in Veg Every Day or actually Jamie’s Italy. But this is something of a bastard version that plays to my liking for rustic Mexican flavours. Roasted garlic, extra oregano, and a little allspice go in to punch that up, and it’s not shy of the tomato. I also figure it’d take a toasted ancho rehydrated in the stock, but I haven’t tried that this time round.
Anyway, I’ve been at the Cambridge Beer Festival for a week, volunteering as a cellarman. This is tremendous fun, rather hard work, and leads to a diet of mostly beer, cheese, and occasional fast food. I needed something packed with vegetables to rescue my innards, and this was the thing.
- Cannellini beans (I used 3 tins, dried are probably preferable but that’s way more faff)
- Onion, 1 large
- Kale, a serious handful
- Celery, 2 sticks
- Tomatoes, about 4
- A leek
- Carrots, 2
- Garlic, 1 bulb
- Vegetable stock, about 500ml (maybe more)
- Oregano, 1/2tsp to 1tsp, to taste
- Thyme, a pinch
- Rosemary, at much bigger pinch – maybe 1/8tsp?
- Allspice, 1/4tsp
Put the bulb of garlic in a medium oven to roast, skin-on, for something like half an hour. When it’s nicely squishy with a bit of caramelisation, remove it to cool. Finely dice an onion and start to fry it gently on olive oil. Give it enough time to soften and just start to colour – this is probably in the region of ten minutes. Meanwhile, fine slice the leek, dice the carrot and celery, and put those to one side.
De-seed the tomatoes. Shove them in a bowl with about a third of the beans and the garlic. Not whole, obviously – you’ll need to get the garlic out of the bulb. Peel, squeeze, whatever. There’s no non-messy approach, really, as it ought to be gooey as all hell. Puree the lot.
When the onion is looking about right, add the other sliced/diced veg.
Fry for a few minutes to soften, then add the remaining ingredients (whole beans, bean/tomato/garlic puree, herbs & spices, stock). You might need a little salt and a top up of water. Simmer for something in the region of half an hour, and add a handful of kale for the final ten minutes. Serve with chunky croutons. Dry ciabatta slices rubbed with garlic and oil are both traditional and delicious.
If you want to really punch up the garlic, roast an extra bulb, and smear it over thick slices of toasted bread. Use these as your croutons, putting them in the bowl first, and ladling the soup over the top. They are tremendous like this.
The mashed beans help this thicken beautifully, and the rest of the veg flavors stay fresh. If you don’t over-do the thyme, there’s a nice gentle herb background that the roast garlic plays into well. The kale gives you a touch of green and crunch behind the creaminess of the beans, and offsets the potential for the whole thing to feel like a less cliché minestrone. It also pairs surprisingly well with a chilled dry sherry. In fact, I’m drinking a Gonzalez Byass Palo Cortado as I type this up, and the gentle nuttiness with just a little sugar is perfect with the beans.
If you find the kale too astringent, fine-sliced cabbage works well, and cavolo nero is the the classic. You’d probably get away with a couple of handfuls of (uncooked) spinach, too. Although that wouldn’t reheat well, and reheating is part of the joy. This is one of those recipes that really pays you back for being left a while for the flavours to mingle.