While Italy is overrun by tourists in the summer, I dream of going in the fall when it’s often less crowded. Yes, the weather is a bit cooler and the skies can be gray and rainy, but, with a little imagination, you can pretend to be a local. And that’s not to mention your odds of finding a bowl of fortifying ribollita go up.
The traditional Italian soup, which is made with stale bread and white beans, is delicious. “Ribollita is a great example of a hearty dish that, despite its humble, inexpensive ingredients, does not compromise on flavor,” writes Russell Norman in his new book, Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking. “The addition of the bread creates a texture that I find deeply comforting, too. Perfect to slurp away those late-autumn blues.”
The secret to the recipe is to wait a day before eating it. While it’s certainly a test of self-control, if you’re able to resist temptation you’ll be rewarded. Norman points out that ribollita, of course, means “reboiled” and the dish tastes better the second day. If you’ll excuse me, I have some soup to make.
- 1 2/3 cup Cannellini beans, dried
- 2 Bay leaves
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large Onion, finely diced
- 1 large Carrot, finely diced
- 1 large Celery stalk, finely diced
- 1 clove Garlic, finely chopped
- Flaky sea salt
- 1 tsp Fennel seeds, crushed
- small handful Thyme leaves
- freshly ground Black pepper
- 1 14.5 ounce can Diced tomatoes
- Half a loaf of stale bread, crustless, torn into small chunks
- 1 whole Cavolo nero, roughly shredded
- Soak the beans overnight in a very large bowl with one of the bay leaves and plenty of cold water.
- Next day, drain the beans, transfer to a large pot, and cover well with fresh cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes, until soft. While cooking, remove scum as it comes to the surface. Retain 2 large cups of the cooking water, drain the beans and set aside.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat a good glug or two of olive oil and gently sauté the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic for a good 15 minutes, until soft and glossy. Add a good pinch or two of salt, the crushed fennel seeds, the thyme, and a twist of black pepper.
- Now add the chopped tomatoes, the cooked beans, one of the cups of cooking water and the second bay leaf, and stir over medium heat for about 30 to 45 minutes. About halfway through, submerge the chunks of stale bread in the soup and add the shredded cavolo nero. You may need to use the second cup of cooking water.
- When done, your thick soup will improve vastly if you leave it overnight in the fridge and reheat it the next day (ribollito means “reboiled”). Either way, remember to remove the bay leaves and finish each bowl with a twist of pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
Reprinted from Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking by Russell Norman. Photos by Jenny Zarins. With permission by Rizzoli, 2018.