Recipe: Tuscan Bean Soup (Ribollita)

This dish is somewhere between a soup and a stew, satisfyingly hearty and lush with creamy beans and lots of olive oil. It’s definitely a main course soup rather than a starter soup. It’s also a really great store cupboard/slightly sad vegetables at the bottom of the fridge/the heel end of the bread dinner, hence posting it at the moment when none of us are able to go out and get fresh ingredients quite as much as we usually would.

The Italian name, Ribollita, means ‘re-boiled’ and I think traditionally it would have been made from the leftovers of another dish such as Minestrone Soup with some beans added for good measure. It’s worth making a big batch as it freezes well and will definitely taste even better after a night in the refrigerator once the flavours have had a chance to meld together into unctuous loveliness. If you don’t have everything in the recipe then feel free to be creative with what you have, though I really like the greens stirred in towards the end of cooking, so if you can get some do put them in.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little more to serve
1 large onion (or 2 smaller ones)
1 large carrot
1 fennel bulb (or you could replace this with celery and add in a few toasted fennel seeds)
4 garlic cloves
1 red chilli (or used some chilli flakes)
2 tomatoes (optional – I happened to have a couple that were past there best so I put them in)
2 tins of beans* with their liquid (I used cannellini and haricot beans)
1 tin of tomatoes
1 bay leaf (optional)
600ml vegetable stock (or use chicken stock, I just used a bit of bouillion)
150-200g greens (kale is traditional but you could use spring greens, savoy cabbage, chard, spinach or a mix)
50-100g stale bread
Salt and Pepper

To serve (all optional)
1 lemon or orange (zest only)
Pesto – I used wild garlic pesto, my recipe is here
Parmesan or another hard cheese

*Almost any beans would work here and you could absolutely used dried beans that you soaked and cooked in advance. If you are using dried beans you will need about 300g before cooking,  as dried beans approximately double in weight once cooked.

Finely dice the onion, carrot and fennel. Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan or casserole dish and once hot (but not smoking) add the chopped vegetables. Season with salt. Turn the heat down to low, put the lid on and cook for as long as you can. I cooked mine for about 75 minutes. You can definitely get away with a shorter cooking time (maybe 30 minutes) but the longer you cook this base (or soffrito as the Italians call it) the more sweetness and melding of flavours in the final dish. Stir occasionally, everything should be getting soft but not brown.

Meanwhile, finely chop your garlic, red chilli and fresh tomatoes (if using). About ten minutes before you plan to finish cooking your vegetables add the chilli and garlic to the pan. Stir well and continue to cook. Ten minutes later add the tinned beans with the liquid from the tin, tinned tomatoes, bay leaf and the stock. Add a good grind of black pepper and a little more salt. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down and simmer with the lid on for 30 minutes or so.

Prep your greens by removing any wood stems and discarding and then slicing into strips about 1cm wide. Break or cut the bread into small pieces a couple of cm big, but it doesn’t really matter.

After the soup has been cooking with the beans and stock add in the greens and stale bread and cook gently for another 15 minutes or so, until the greens are tender.

Serve garnished with some or all of the following; a little grating of lemon or orange zest, a dollop of pesto, a drizzle of olive oil and/or a grating of Parmesan. We usually eat ours with a chunk of bread or a little rice, but it’s substantial enough to eat by itself.

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