Ribollita is really just a robust vegetable soup, but the Italian name gives it an air of the exotic that plain old mixed veg doesn’t have. And it’s quite a plain thing, and even boring if not done carefully.
The essential elements are:
- Onions, carrots and celery – a standard soup or stock base, although I wouldn’t worry if you don’t have celery in the house.
- Beans of some sort – a white bean like cannellini usually, but I have also subbed chickpeas in the past
- Kale – usually cavolo nero, also called dinosaur kale which has long narrow green-black spears. You could instead use chard, regular kale, spinach, Brussels tops.
- Even more starch – traditionally toasted bread is layered with the soupy part to make an almost sliceable bake. Skye Gingell’s innovation is to use farro (spelt), making it much more reheatable. You could probably use pearled barley to similar effect
And that’s it. You may be thinking that this doesn’t sound very tasty so far, and I have some sympathy with that. Combined without care, it can be very dull. To make this work you need some patience and attention – not something I can always be relied on to provide. The vegetables need to be softened to extract and develop flavour before being swamped with water; you need a good amount of salt to season it properly, and some umami. Umami is the taste of savoury. It’s the flavour of glutamate, a type of amino acid, that is found in grilled meat, porcini mushrooms, parmesan, ketchup, soy sauce – almost anything that is used a condiment.
To get the umami flavour into the soup, using good stock helps, or just a stock cube, which are fully of precisely this flavour. Parmesan rinds (they freeze really well) cooked with the soup are very useful – the whole thing starts to smell of faintly of melted cheese, which can’t be a bad thing.
This soup, with perhaps a slice of bread, is a really filling lunch, freezes well and clears out pretty much your entire vegetable drawer in one go. What more could you want?
(adapted mainly from Skye Gingell’s ‘My Favourite Ingredients‘)
- olive oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 sticks of celery, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- large pinch dried chilli flakes
- 4-5 sage leaves, finely sliced
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
- about 150g farro, rinsed
- 1 can peeled plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1 can cannellini beans (drained) – I used chickpeas because it was what i had in the house, but I think the creamy texture of the beans would have worked better
- Chicken stock or water, around a litre
- 1 bunch cavolo nero (or kale), thick stalks removed and roughly chopped
- parmesan rinds (optional)
Heat olive oil in a casserole or large saucepan. Soften the onions over a medium heat. Add the carrots and celery, and fry gently for a few more minutes. (I tend to chop the onions before heating the pan, then just chop each vegetable as I go, adding to the pot, then moving on to chop the next one.) Add the garlic, sage and chilli and stir to fry and make fragrant. Add the potatoes, and farro, stir and heat again. Add the tomatoes and their juice, then add chicken stock or water to just cover the vegetables, and the parmesan rind, if using. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the potato and farro are cooked. Add the beans and the cavolo nero, and simmer for about another hour. Then either serve, or cool down, divide into portions and freeze.