November 5, 2013
by Jack McNulty

The cooler weather of fall always brings me to soups…and I really enjoy all types: creamy purées, thick lentil soups, chunky vegetable soups, clear consommés and so on. But in my opinion, the king of all cold weather soups has to be the famous Tuscan ribolita. It is a thick, stick-to-your-ribs soup filled with healthy vegetables, beans and potatoes. It is excellent when first prepared, but like the name suggests (ribolita means to re-boil), the soup improves in flavor when reheated, which makes this soup perfect for keeping around a couple of days

Most ribolita soups you will encounter are somewhat different than the original…either lacking in vegetable variety or packed full of tomato puree and cheese. My version below is very similar to the actual DOC designated recipe, which was officially declared on the 24th of May, 2011 at the Florence Academy of Italian Cuisine. The designation followed a long research period with some of the finest restaurants in Florence participating. The concluding recipe implied most restaurants in Tuscany do not serve the real version, but mere impostors.

The soup does take a bit of time to put together, but hey…remember, it’s cold outside and what else do you have to do? Some items…like the beans, can be prepared ahead of time. But, you will produce a far better version of this soup if you keep most of the preparation for the last minute. Try to find and use the best possible ingredients…and don’t worry if the soup appears too thick because you can always thin it a bit later with a tasty broth or simply water.

One other tip…please don’t use a vegetable bouillon cube in this recipe! Either make your own simple vegetable broth or just use water. The taste and added salt in those little cubes will act like yeast in your soup and continue to grow.

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makes about 2 liters

200 gr. uncooked borlotti beans (makes about 500 gr. cooked)
3 liters water
1/2 head savoy cabbage, sliced very thin
20 gr. olive oil (you can leave out the oil and use water)
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery ribs, sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 medium carrots, sliced
1/2 bunch Tuscan kale, sliced (about 7,5 dl. packed)
200 gr. waxy potatoes , cubed
1,5 liters vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
1 large sprig rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 medium tomatoes, pureed
chopped spinach (about 2,5 dl. packed)
salt & pepper to taste
400 gr. stale dark bread, cubed

Start by preparing the beans and cooking them using your favorite method until they are soft (I use the pressure cooker for this and cook the beans under high pressure for 65 minutes). You can make the beans a day in advance. I discard most of the cooking liquid, but use a portion to puree half of the prepared beans. The next step is to prepare the cabbage. I bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt the water very well, then add the sliced cabbage. Cook the cabbage for 3 minutes, then strain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set the prepared cabbage aside.

Now it’s time to build the soup. Heat your olive oil (or about 1 dl. of water) over medium heat. Add the diced onion, sliced celery, whole garlic cloves and sliced carrots. Toss well and cook the vegetables until they soft. This will take about 10 minutes.  Add the sliced kale, cubed potatoes, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and the vegetable broth (or water). Season lightly with salt, bring the soup to a boil then reduce the temperature to maintain a simmer. Cook until the potatoes and vegetables are soft. This will take about 15-20 minutes. Add the reserved cabbage and pureed tomatoes at this point, and simmer the soup another 5 minutes.

Remember those prepared beans? Did you puree about half of them? If not, then now would be a good time to do that task. When the beans are ready, add all of the cooked beans and the pureed beans to the soup. Season another 10 minutes. Check the seasoning at this point and add a bit of salt and ground pepper if you like. Add the spinach and cubed stale dark bread (tip…make sure the cubes are small as they will swell once they are in the soup – then you will have big chunks of bread and that’s not too pleasant).  Adjust the seasoning one last time and that’s it…your soup is ready for a sample bowl. Completely cool the remaining soup, then keep refrigerated until you are ready to re-boil your soup!