Bread and bean soup

Italian bread and bean soup (also known as Ribollita), would be considered ‘peasant cuisine’ or ‘food of the poor’ because it is made with simple, and above all, economic ingredients.

We must not overlook however, that many traditional Italian dishes allow us to re-evaluate the importance of using raw ingredients linked to the territory, the seasons and history. Bread and bean soup for example, was a way to use up stale bread that was often plentiful.

There are many versions of bread and bean soup in every region of Italy. The most famous of which is Tuscan Tomato Pappa and the Pugliese Gargano Pancotto. These peasant soups are full-bodied and made with what the land put at the disposal of farmers. Consequently, variations are numerous.

You can store your bread and bean soup for up to 4 days in the fridge. As each day passes, the flavors improve.

We would not recommend freezing this soup.

Bread and bean soup – serves 6 – 8

INGREDIENTS

  • 14 ounces (400 g) dried cannellini beans, about 2 heaping cups (4 cups canned beans can be substituted)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 sprigs fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 red onions, peeled and chopped into small dice, about 2 cups (yellow onions may be substituted)
  • 1 leek (white part only), thinly sliced and rinsed
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed and cut into ½-inch dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed lightly and peeled
  • Few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 4 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (canned plum tomatoes can be substituted)
  • 1 pound (455 g) Tuscan kale, washed, stemmed, and leaves cut into ½-inch strips (about 8 cups)
  • ½ pound (225 g) Savoy cabbage, washed and shredded into ¼-inch strips (about 4 cups)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard weighing about ½ pound, washed, stemmed, and leaves only cut into ½-inch strips (about 4 cups)
  • 2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into dice
  • One pound (453 g) crusty, rustic bread, cut into ½-inch thick slices and air dried for 2 days until hard (fresh bread slices will need be lightly toasted in 350°F/180°C oven)
  • ¼ red onion, finely sliced or chopped to garnish
  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil to garnish
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
bread and bean soup

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Sort through the dried beans and discard any small stones. Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with twice the volume of cold water. Let soak for 12 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain the beans then place them in a heavy pot with 2½ quarts (2½ liters) cold water, 2 garlic cloves, sage and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place over medium heat, covered, and bring to a simmer, occasionally skimming off any foam that forms on the surface. Reduce heat to low and cook, with lid slightly askew, at a slow simmer for about 50 minutes or until beans are tender. Add 2 teaspoons salt and cook for another 10 minutes until beans are soft but not mushy. Scoop half the beans out of the pot using a slotted spoon and reserve. Remove the garlic and sage then puree the remaining beans and their cooking liquid through a food mill or using an emersion blender or food processor. If using canned beans, reserve 2 cups whole beans and heat the remaining beans with packing liquid plus 6 cups water until warm. Puree the beans and liquid as directed above then set aside until needed.
  3. Heat 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add the onions and leeks, season lightly with salt, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the carrots and celery and cook for a few more minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, and chopped tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the lacinato kale in increments, stirring and cooking until leaves wilt down enough to make room for more. Add the cabbage, chard and potatoes to the pot then season the vegetables generously with salt and pepper, stirring to incorporate. Cook the vegetables for 10 minutes until softened and reduced down in volume, then pour in the pureed beans and their liquid plus enough hot water to cover the vegetables.
  4. Bring the soup to a boil then reduce the heat to low and cook at a gentle simmer, partially covered, for about one hour until vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally and adding more water if needed. The soup should be fairly thick with a small amount of liquid. Stir the whole beans into the soup during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Remove soup from heat and let cool until just warm then proceed to the next step or refrigerate to continue recipe the next day.
  5. In the bottom of a 3-quart dutch oven or high-sided baking/souffle dish (or two 1.5-quart), spread a 1-inch thick layer of vegetable soup. Arrange one-third of the bread slices to fit over the soup then cover the bread with another layer of soup. Repeat the layers ending with a thick layer of soup (about 3 layers of bread). Let stand for a couple of hours or cover and refrigerate overnight.
  6. The ribollita can now be reheated in one of two ways: in the oven or on the stovetop (I prefer the oven method since it doesn’t require attention or stirring). If using the baking method, preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C about one hour before serving time. Drizzle the surface of the ribollita with extra virgin olive oil then sprinkle with sliced red onion and freshly ground black pepper. Bake in center of hot oven for 30 minutes until bubbly and a light crust forms on the surface. Alternately, the soup can be re-boiled (ribollita) over medium-low heat on the stove until heated through.
  7. Serve large ladlefuls of ribollita in soup bowls with generous pours of fruity extra virgin olive oil swirled over top. Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated up to 3 days later.

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