Tuesday, June 17, 2014


THE TRADITIONAL TUSCAN RIBOLLITA - one of the most renowned dishes of Tuscan cuisine
Italy is breathtaking! Every part of it has a story to tell. I love everything about Italy - the history, their way of life, and of course the FOOD!
One of the few dishes I learned about, as soon as I came to Italy,  was the Tuscan Ribollita. So, when I came to Florence,  I couldn't wait to try a real Tuscan Ribollita. Now it could get pretty expensive eating at restaurants but the few times I ate out at local restaurants, it was well worth it! A friend recommended the restaurant ZA ZA, just off the Mercato Centrale in Florence, with a tipically tuscan menu:  grilled meats, brothy soups, pastas and beans.

I ordered ribollita, followed by a famous Florentine steak, and it was really delicious. But a bowl of ribollita was so fullfiling, I could hardly have any space left for my Florentine T-bone steak.

Ribollita is a famous Tuscan soup, made with bread and vegetables with many variations. But the main ingredients always include Cannellini beans and inexpensive vegetables such as carrot, cabbage, silverbeet, cavolo nero and onion. It is served over stale artisan bread or even sometimes cooked with the bread. The dish has the texture of both a soup and stew and it can even lok like a porridge.
It is such a healthy, delicious, and comforting food. 
Many Tuscan zuppa (thick soup) such as the ribollita and tomato bread soup I had in Florence, originates from the humble cucina povera, or poor kitchen, method of cooking. Cucina povera refers to the use of simple ingredients that are available on-hand to create a fantastic “something” out of nothing. It is the Tuscan wisdom of “non buttar via niente”
(don’t throw away anything) and of giving new life to leftovers.

Most Tuscan food is far from fancy; it's rustic and simple.
Respecting tradition and promoting local produce:
these are the fundamental rules of Tuscan cuisine .
While this  brothy and simple soup is now a speciality in posh restaurants in Tuscany, its roots are clearly in the home, or the farmhouse.  Everyone’s grandmother in Italy knows this recipe by heart and probably does some variation on this.
This culinary tradition finds its roots in the peasant culture, which revolved around work in the fields and at home, especially in the kitchen. As the real heart of family life, the kitchen has always been the place where all the main day-to-day activities were conducted. From preparing and eating meals, to the ritual of preparing meat, and sitting by the fire in the evening. I can imagine ribollita, cooked slowly on a wood stove during winter months in a kitchen of a Tuscan farmhouse. Time has changed many of these old habits, but nothing has changed in the traditions passed on by the ancestors.
That's why in Tuscany, to this day, you can still enjoy the same flavours, which are cherished for their traditional value.   
Tuscany is a land of hunters and farmers and it offers tasty recipes of wild boar, hare and pheasant. But that’s not all.  
Fresh vegetables are also used a lot in Tuscan cooking, especially beans. Beans are a very common ingredient in Tuscan cooking and Tuscans are known all over Italy as mangiafagioli (bean-eaters)!
They do not have a rich culinary history in their pasta dishes for primi piatti (first courses). Instead, the history of their primi piatti lies in beans, dried legumes (vegetables) and bread soups.
So I learned that in Tuscany, some of the most delicious meals are in the form of soups and the most famous  ones are Ribollita,  Pappa al Pomodoro and Panzanella.
Cities Livorno, Florence and Siena claim the Ribollita, and you will find it everywhere in Tuscany, but after all it was typically a soup of the countryside rather than the city.

 Its name, translating in Italian, means"re-boiled". In the past, huge pots of the soup were made so that it could be enjoyed for several days. More vegetables and broth (čorba,juha) would be added and boiled into the soup as its supply ran low.  Each time a hungry family member would want more soup they would simply re-boil the remains and have another bowl.
When the soup was re-boiled it would become thicker and tastier than the time before. The soup would also vary slightly from day to day. It is how the ribollita is made – by combining, reheating, and flavoring leftover ingredients.

Other explanations for its name, however, claim that the soup is actually made with leftover minestrone, which has bread added to it. As the soup is cooked and most of it is consumed, thinly sliced bread is added the next day. Once the soup soaks into the bread and the bread thickens the soup, the product is reboiled and served. Others, however, insist that minestrone and ribollita are two very separate soups.

It is very difficult to define what should be in a Ribollita, because the entire idea behind it is to reboil the ingredients you have at your disposal, but - as the tradition led on - three main ingredients became a must: Tuscan bread, cannellini beans and Tuscan kale, a vegetable that can be found out in the garden mostly in winter. In fact it really must be freezing out if you want to make the ribollita since ice makes the kale leaves softer and easier to cook.
Canellini beans are the right ones to use, but borlotti beans can do as well. Although some recipes include bacon, the
original is based on vegetables only and was a common dish for lent (POST).
Tomatoes are a bit tricky, some like to add them to give color and the right acidity, some argue that they should not be included in the recipe because tomatoes were introduced in Europe after Columbus’ discovery of America (1492) and
the soup's origine is before that time. This is one of those recipes, where everyone seems to have refined it to their taste, so there seems to be no definitive recipe or list of ingredients. I found the recipes with some extra vegetables added to the main list, such as: cabbage, zucchini, potatoes or spinach. To add flavour, you have to add a touch of thyme and spices, Tuscan extra virgin olive oil and thin slices of chive (vlasac). In some recipes it can be seasoned with pesto, pepper, cellery, parsley and red wine.  

It's almost impossible to give a recipe for Tuscan bread soup, known as Ribollita, because each family has their own version, refined over years and based on their own tastes. In reality, there isn't one recipe that could be said to be the ‘correct’ recipe. I realised this when I decided to cook Ribollita and when I tried to find the original and correct recipe on the Internet. There were so many versions of it, all very similar, but always different in one way or the other. Each Ribollita contains several different types of vegetables that may vary depending on household recipes.
There are many variations but the main ingredients always include leftover bread, cannellini beans and vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, beans, silverbeet (repa), cavolo nero (black leaf kale), garlic, tomatoes and onion.
The soup was also traditionally made with stale bread, though in modern recipes you may find sliced ciabatta, an Italian bread with a hard crust. Adding bread allows the soup to thicken and become stew-like.
Modern recipes for ribollita generally begin with onions, carrots, and garlic being sauteed in a pan with plenty of extra virgin olive oil. Variations on the recipe may include adding bacon at this stage, or pancetta, which is a type of Italian unsmoked bacon. Tomatoes or tomato paste is then added in order to deglaze the browned bits in the pot, followed by beans, herbs, and broth or stock. Sometimes, the rind of a hard cheese, such as parmigianno regianno or pecorino, is added as well and removed after cooking.
After boiling and simmering for 30 to 60 minutes, the soup is then seasoned with salt and pepper. The soup may then be ladled into a bowl over crisped bread. This modern method of preparing ribollita is different to traditional recipes where the soup is cooked with the bread already incorporated.
After studying everything about Rebollita I chose one of the many recipes and ventured my own version of this bread soup.
I decided to be patient and to make it in three steps, adding stale bread on the second day and reheating it the third day. The third day it was the soup I was aiming for – the famous, delicious Ribollita.
It turnes out that classic ribollita is actually not one dish, but three. It starts out as a minestra, a simple vegetable soup with greens and white beans. The next day, leftovers of the minestra are extended with pieces of stale bread to make minestra di pane.

On the third day, the soup is reheated or reboiled. As is typical with most soups, the flavors meld and improve with time.
An authentic Ribollita takes about three days to taste its best, but no matter which phase of its life you are consuming, be sure to serve it with a drizzle of very good olive oil.
THIS IS HOW I MADE MY RIBOLLITA (my version of Ribollita soup)
1st day   -  Minestra
The core ingredient of the dish is Cavolo nero ("black cabbage", althoug it is not black but very dark green). It is a form of kale with deeply wrinkled, dark-green leaves and has a mild, mustardy aroma. If you absolutely cannot find it, you can substitute with other kale or chard.

 This is also a super cheap dish to make. I spent a total of five euro on my ingredients (there was already plenty of stale bread at home). This isn't like making a cake where you have to be exact in the quantities, so feel free to change or add/subtract whatever ingredients and quantities you prefer.
To make Minestra I took following ingredients:
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, diced
several cloves garlic, minced
2 small zucchini, diced
good handful of fresh sage
(KADULJA), chopped
several large stalks of cavolo nero
(KELJ), chopped
several stalks of chard
(BLITVA), chopped
23 dkg ( or a small cup) cooked cannellini beans
2 Tbsp tomato puree (
or 8-10 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped)
olive oil
1 parmesan cheese rind
6 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

to season: salt and pepper, chive, parsley, fresh or dried thyme and basil as you like
pinch of red pepper flake ( nije mljevena crvena paprika, nego zgnječena, kao u pahuljicama)

You can use your imagination and add other ingredients if you like. If you've got a leftover parmigiano reggiano rind, throw that inthe pot, too. I always have a few that I've saved in the freezer.

This is the recipe I followed:

Sauté the onions in the cooking pot until translucent. (Watch the video to see how to saute onions, they have to be bounced while frying - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTyV3JExDT8)
Add the garlic and sage and cook a minute or two longer. Add the remaining vegetables, tomato puree, pepper, red pepper flake, several good pinches of salt and about 6 cups of water or chicken stock (broth).
Cook for about half an hour.  
Once the pot has simmered for a while, add the beans and cook for another 30 minutes. Season to taste ; I found a little vinegar helped wake it up. And it should look like this - a hearty and soul-warming vegetable soup. 

2nd day   -  Minestra di pane
The next day, leftovers of the minestra are extended with pieces of stale bread to make minestra di pane.
So, I added cubes of stale bread and let them soak until the bread absorbed liquid and softened.
In a soup server, put a layer of bread and cover with a layer of soup. Keep adding layers of bread and soup till the soup server is full.
I used Tuscan bread, which is dense and made without salt.

 3rd day  -  Ribollita
On the third day, the minestra di pane is reheated or "reboiled".  The soup will thicken as the bread breaks down. As is typical with most soups, the flavors meld and improve with time. No matter which phase of its life you are consuming, be sure to serve it with a drizzle of very good olive oil.
It was easy to make, and although it didn’t look terribly appetizing when it was done, it smelled amazing and the flavor of the soup was good and rich. It was even better with a glass of the Chianti Classico , which is the best wine to serve with this version of ribollita. 
They say it is perfect for the cooler Autumn and Winter months, but  we enjoyed our Ribollita on a pretty hot day in May.
It’s usually best to make a large quantity of this soup as it is famous for being even tastier ‘ribollita’ or ‘re-boiled’ the next day, especially (according to some) if eaten with lightly salted slices of onion. But, as I was making the soup just for myself and my roommates, I didn't make a lot of it. So there was not much left for freezing or reheating tomorrow.

I read that if you have leftover ribollita you can pan fry it the next day.  As I had just a few spoonfuls left I decided to add some more bread  and fry it in a pan. It still didn't look that appetizing, it looked like a porridge.  But fried bread and veggies at the end turned out to be really delicious!

4 th day  - Pan-fried ribollita
Add 1-2 Tbsp olive oil to a nonstick pan, and put over medium-high heat. Scoop ribollita with a spoon into the hot oil. Boil the ribollita down until the liquid is fully evaporated; add more bread if desired, or just wait until the liquid has boiled out. Swirl the ribollita in the pan frequently to avoid sticking. When the liquid has all boiled out, the ribollita should be less loose and move as one mass. Flip the fried ribollita in the pan to fry the other side. You must be patient to achieve the full crustiness of the dish. Patience pays off, but even half-fried ribollita is better than no ribollita at all.
The history of this Tuscan dish is an interesting one, but there are a few  theories behind its origin.The slightly more simple idea is that, back in the Middle Ages, peasant families used to add a selection of vegetables, that they were able to get their hands on, into a large pot. At that time poor peasants had to be inventive with all the scraps and leftovers they had. The vegetables were cooked until they formed a thick soup, and then often re-boiled the following day.  When the soup was re-boiled it would become thicker and tastier than the time before. This delicacy was often served on huge slices of bread to help soak up the delicious juices, so nothing was wasted.
However, it is more widely believed that in the Middle Ages feudal nobles made lavish banquets using rounds of bread as plates. At the end of the meal, their servants gathered up the meat-soaked flatbreads, took them home and boiled them with whatever vegetables they could find to make their own meal. So the servants would make a broth and over a period of two or three days add any bits of leftovers and scraps they could obtain from the big, fat nobles at the castle banquets. Vegetables, beans, kale or spinach, wild herbs, bits of beef, anything that was edible really would be tossed into the broth. Bread was added to thicken the dish and the whole thing was “reboiled” as a hearty meal. Of course, as with most soups, the flavors would meld and get better over time, transforming into a delicious dish.

Among many stories about the origins of ribollita, I found this one, which vividly describes the humble beginings of the nowdays famous dish:
It is believed the origins of ribollita, meaning simply ‘reboiled,' date back to the Middle Ages and the heart of the Tuscan countryside. Under the feudal system, in the grandest country estates in Tuscany, at the end of a banquet, the hungry, hard-working peasants who served table to the lords and ladies of the manor, would pocket the leftover crusts and crumbs of Tuscan bread after their masters' abundant feasts. But before tucking the bits of bread into an apron pocket, under a skirt, or down a blouse-front, they would wipe the plates clean of the leftover meat juices to allow the dense, unsalted bread to soak up these precious flavour-filled juices.
Back at their humble homes on the estate, the crusts and crumbs of bread, soaked with the fragrant meat juices from such delicacies as piccione(roast pigeon), daino (deer) or cinghiale (wild boar) sauce, would not be eaten immediately but instead set aside for further preparation. The anticipation of these folk with little in their stomachs can only be imagined.
Cannellini beans would be soaked in water, then put to rest by the side of the fire in a fiasco (a glass bottle), containing water, rosemary, garlic and olive oil, and left to cook very slowly overnight. The next day, the vegetables growing in the peasants' small patches of earth allowed for personal use on the estate would be harvested, scrubbed clean of dirt, rough-chopped into nice chunks and added to the pot: late carrots, an onion or two, a few leaves of cavolo nero (relative of the common cabbage) and anything else edible growing in the garden. The final, and probably most important, ingredient in this simple yet wonderful Tuscan dish is the deluge of extra-virgin olive oil poured raw onto every portion prior to serving.

Pellegrino Artusi, the godfather of Italian cooking, calls it Zuppa Toscana di Magro alla Contadina, a “lean peasant’s soup from Tuscany”.  Artusi wrote La Scienza in Cucina e L’arte di Mangiare Bene, which is considered to be the great-grandfather of all Italian cookbooks and bible of Italian cuisine.

It  was written in 1891 and was the first book that included a collection of dishes from regions all over the newly founded nation of Italy. Anyone interested in Italian cooking should have this on the bookshelf or, even better, on the kitchen table top! I found the book in the library after I had already made my Ribollita at home. If I had found it earlier I would have used Artusi's recipe, which is more than 100 years old, but I think it is still way to do it. Here is a recipe from 1891:
400 grams of stale bread, cut into pieces
300 grams of dried white cannellini beans, soaked overnight in a large pot of water and boiled.
1 onion, 2 cloves of garlic, half a stalk of celery, parsley
Tomato paste (a couple of tablespoons)
150 grams olive oil
2 litres of water
Half a head of cabbage, chopped
Half a bunch (or more, Artusi advises) of cavolo nero, black kale, chopped
1 bunch of silverbeet, chopped
1 medium sized potato, diced
Some strips of ham, bacon or pancetta or to be more specific, the leftover scraps of dried skin from a leg of prosciutto, for flavour (the rind of some quality parmesan cheese also works)
Finely chop the onion, garlic, celery and parsley and sauté gently in olive oil. When they begin to turn golden, add the chopped greens and potato. Season with salt and pepper and add tomato paste to your taste, then add some of the water you used to boil the beans (don’t waste anything!) to obtain a soup consistency. Puree half of the beans, and add these with the other half whole to the soup, along with the prosciutto scraps. Allow to boil further until vegetables are cooked, then, taking it off the heat, add the bread, cover and allow to sit for 20 minutes for the bread to soak before serving. It should be quite thick once you have the bread in there. You can add a bit of water when reheating or to your liking.


The wine you should pour with Ribollita should be preferably three things: Tuscan, red and intense. I drank  House Chianti Classico at the restaurant ZA ZA and it went perfectly with my ribollita.
I made a brief research and found out the wines that experts recommend as companions to this hearty soup.

The first expert on wines says:
I would go with the earthy Cecchi Bonizio, a marvelous blend of Merlot from Tuscany's coastal Maremma zone, and select Sangiovese grapes from the hills of Chianti Classico, loaded with lots of wild berries, spice and complexity, perfect with the round, full and rich mouthfuls of warm, comforting vegetables.

The other one says:
Owing to the tomato sauce (acidity) and taking into account that the Ribollita is deeply rooted in the Tuscan culinary tradition I'd be inclined to match it with a Sangiovese the king of Tuscan grapes: Rosso di Montalcino, or Montepulciano and obviously Chianti Classico. Enjoy!
And here is another recommendation:
We paired Ribollita with a simple, juicy 2010 Chianti Classico from Monteraponi.  Other good pairing could easily be Barbera d'Alba, Dolcetto d'Alba, and of course Rosso di Montalcino.  If you desire American wine, I think even a robust Zinfandel would be great.


On my trip to San Gimignano, I found a nice local gift for my sister. As she is not a great cook, I thought this ready –made Ribollita soup would be a perfect culinary introduction to Tuscan cooking. A bag contains all the neccessary ingredients to prepare Ribollita, dried legumes and herbs together with the instructions how to make the soup.
 So, my family in Croatia also enjoyed Ribollita and they loved it. But they say they are waiting for me to come back and prepare a realTuscan soup, with fresh vegetables.  I think I am going to make a large pot of it and reboil it for several days,
so all my family and my friends will be able to have a bowl of this delicious soup.


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