Imagine exploring the rolling, vineyard-lined hills of Tuscany on a lazy winter afternoon. The sun is out, the air is crisp. At the end of the day, a colorful canvas rises as the last bit of warmth sets with the sun. What you need now, is a glass of Chianti, a crackling fire, and a proper bowl of Ribollita. A dish that has been warming Tuscan farm family tables for generations.
Ribollita means “reboiled” in Italian. While that might not sound enticing, home cooks will quickly understand. Ribollita is a dish that seems to get better, warmed the second day. Ribollita is hearty thanks to vegetables like kale, cabbage, potatoes, onions, and carrots. Cannellini beans are cooked down adding a buttery texture. In the last half hour of cooking, stale unsalted, Tuscan bread cut into cubes is added. Slowly breaking down into a porridge-like texture.
Oh my goodness is it good. A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil sends first-time eaters into a state of instant comfort. In my case, it also sent me on a Ribollita recipe exploration. In Italy, there is no one you can trust more to perfect an Authentic Ribollita soup than a Nonna like the one featured in this recipe video below.
When visiting Italy, soup is not the first thing I want to order. Soup? I can do that at home. Had I not been in Tuscany for the first time with my Italian Husband, I might have missed out. I might never have known how good Ribollita a Tuscan bread and vegetable soup can be. Ribollita was the one dish I ordered again and again. Three times in one week to be exact. Why? One, we spent our winter holiday in Tuscany and it was cold. Really cold. Each day of exploration left my nose bright red and my fingers were frozen. The warm soup was just, right. Two, a proper bowl of Ribollita is food that hugs you back.
My favorite comes from Gabriele Corcos. Proud Tuscan, Chef, and husband to Debi Mazar. Yep, that super cute couple Cooking Channel lovers get to watch together on Extra Virgin.
Chef Gabriele Corcos’ recipe online is slightly different from the one I fell in love with. My trusty old Epicurious Italy magazine held a variation of this recipe that’s as authentic as each of the bowls I tucked into that cold winter in Tuscany.
Variations below are my own and based on preference. Thankfully, recipes like this one, are pretty forgiving and easy to tweak based on what’s at hand.
Authentic Ribollita Recipe
- 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
- 1 small purple onion, roughly chopped
- 3 golden potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1/2 head savoy cabbage, roughly chopped
- 1 15 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
- 1/2 lb stale unsalted Tuscan style bread, cut into half-inch cubes
- 1 bunch Tuscan kale, stems removed, roughly chopped
- 8 oz dried Cannellini beans, soaked overnight in cold water to cover
- Salt and pepper to taste, additional extra-virgin olive oil for serving
- Rinse and drain the soaked beans. In an 8-quart pot, cover beans with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high, cook for 1-hour salting water 40 minutes in. Beans are done when fork tender, drain and set aside.
- Return 8-quart pot to stove, add olive oil warming to medium-high. Add carrots, onion, celery until soft (8-10 minutes).
- Add potatoes, kale, cabbage and sauté until cabbage wilts (6 minutes).
- Drain and carefully, squish tomatoes through hands dropping into soup.
- Add enough water to the pot to cover and bring back to a boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, season with salt and pepper to taste and allow to simmer for 1 and a half hours.
- Add bread, cooking for another 30 minutes, until crust begins to fall apart.
- Serve in bowls drizzled with a good helping of extra-virgin olive oil.
- If you can not find Tuscan bread, think of the crusty country-style and if salted, hold off adding salt till after the bread is cooked down.
- Grated cheese is tempting but skip it or overwhelm the flavor of the vegetables.
- The texture of the soup is enhanced by starting with dry beans. In a pinch, canned beans can be substituted but keep an eye on them or they will break apart completely.
- Navy, Great Northern, and even Chickpeas can be substituted for Cannellini as well if cooked longer to achieve the buttery texture.
- When it comes to the extra-virgin olive oil, this is the excuse you need to buy the good stuff! The bold flavors of a great extra-virgin olive oil here are the perfect complement to the vegetables in the soup.
- Do not reheat in the microwave. Add a little water, use a low heat on the stove top and stir often or the bread will scorch.
Recipe Credit: Extra Virgin, by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar
When in Tuscany if you catch the word Ribollita slip between a waiter’s lips and his fingertips, there is nothing else you have to understand. Order it.
When it comes to exploring the best regional cuisine in Italy, always trust an Italian.
Thank you to my guide and travel partner for encouraging me to order regionally in Italy and for building a fire that night in Tuscany.