There is nothing like a warming bowl of soup to satisfy both the tummy and the soul. Memories of eating this Tuscan bean and vegetable soup called Ribollita in Siena, Italy, on a chilly fall Sunday morning will forever hold wonderful memories.
Ribollita in Siena, Italy
Famed for its cuisine, art, cathedral and Il Palio horse race, Siena is an ancient medieval and historic marvel. When you arrive you can hardly believe you are there. It’s the scene of storybooks, postcards and movie sets. Exploring cobblestone alleyways, stopping at every turn to take photographs left us in need of a warm lunch. A small unassuming restaurant close to our hotel looked like just the spot. How how could we resist a restaurant named for an Italian grandmother?
Osteria Nonna Gina & Ribollita
Seated at our small wooden table, the cozy dining room quickly filled with local families, which is always a good sign. You’ll find a hearty vegetable soup called Ribollita everywhere in Tuscany. In English, Ribollita means “reboiled”. Ribollita is a way for thrifty Tuscan cooks to use leftover vegetables, bread and beans from the week.
A steaming bowl of ribollita arrived, it’s thickness created from melted bread cubes. We sprinkled a little fresh Parmesan cheese over the top. With every bite I quickly learned why this soup was famous. Complete with a good glass of local Chianti wine, we had a warm and comforting lunch. We listened to the banter of Italian families around us, enjoying a good meal on a Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t wait to make it at home.
Ribollita at Home
Never having made Ribollita, I did some research and found inspiration from a recipe inThe Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten. I’ve adapted her recipe to bring it closer to what I enjoyed in Italy.
Beans: Overnight Soak Method
Soaking dried beans overnight starts the rehydration process. It also cuts down on cooking time by about 25% and helps the beans to cook more consistently and not split. Start your beans the night ahead by soaking in a pot. Pour beans into the empty pot and pick out any broken beans or debris. Then cover the beans in cold water. Cover and refrigerate over night.
Beans: Quick Soak Method
For a faster process, use the quick-soak method to get your beans ready. Place beans in a heavy pot (like a Le Creuset Dutch oven), cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat,. Remove pot from heat, cover beans with a lid, and allow them to soak for one hour. Drain beans and start the soup recipe. This method may also help break down more of the simple sugars that make beans hard to digest for some people.
Rancho Gordo Beans
For high quality dried Cannellini beans, I order from Rancho Gordo in Napa Valley, my favorite heirloom bean supplier. Their Cannellini beans are fantastic, like big, plump pillows after cooking. You ‘ll find many more uses for them besides this soup recipe, so be sure to order a few extra bags.
2014 Note – Unfortunately due to inconsistent crop yields, Rancho Gordo no longer sells their wonderful cannellini beans. You may find them by other brands at your local market, or try what they suggest as a replacement – the Royal Corona Bean.
Due to all of the vegetables, there is a bit of prep work to making ribollita. Think of it as great knife skills practice. You can even do the prep ahead and start the soup when you are ready. With it’s lightly sweet licorice flavor, diced fennel is a great addition to this soup. I’ve also reduced broth to make it thicker. Homemade turkey broth was in my freezer, but chicken broth works great. For vegetarians, use vegetable broth and omit the pancetta.
On bread – Originally I used 2 cups of cracked wheat sourdough bread cubes. Since going gluten-free (sourdough is one thing I do miss), I use gluten-free bread or bread crumbs (homemade) to thicken the soup. You can also skip thickening and enjoy the soup as is.
Ribollita | Tuscan Vegetable Soup |Siena, Italy
- ½ pound dried cannellini beans or 3 cups of canned beans rinsed and drained
- 3 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for serving if desired
- 4 ounces pancetta diced small
- 2 cups diced onion 1 jumbo or 2 medium
- 3-4 large cloves of fresh garlic minced
- 1 cup diced carrots 3-4 medium
- 1 cup diced celery 3-4 stalks
- 1 cup diced fennel 1 medium
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 28-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
- 4 cups chopped kale most of a head, ribs cut out, then chopped
- ½ cup fresh chopped basil leaves
- 4 cups chicken broth preferably homemade
- 2 cups sourdough bread cubes crusts removed
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- To soak the beans overnight: In a large bowl, cover the Cannellini beans with cold water to cover by several inches. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate overnight. If you’ve forgotten to soak the beans overnight, use this quick soak method, below.
- Drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 8 cups ( 2 liters) of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 45-60 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt and continue simmering until beans are tender, about 15 minutes longer. Set the beans aside in their liquid to cool.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium heat, cook the pancetta until crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Add the oil to the pot and over medium-low heat cook onions until they are soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the drained pancetta, carrots, celery, fennel, salt, black and red pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 7-10 minutes. Add tomatoes and reserved juice, kale, and basil and simmer another 7-10 minutes.
- Drain the cooled beans, reserving the liquid. Puree half of the beans with a little of the liquid in a blender. Add bean puree to the pot with the vegetables, then add the remaining whole beans. Discard the remaining bean liquid. (in a hurry, skip the puree and just add the beans).
- Add chicken broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add bread cubes and simmer another 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with a little more olive oil or extra chopped basil if desired.
- This soup is even better the next day. I like it very thick as I had it in Italy. If you want more brothy soup you can add a little more broth.
Quick Soak Bean Method – Rinse the beans in cold water, place them in a large, heavy pot (like Le Creuset Dutch Oven) and cover with cold water by about 3″. Bring the beans to a boil and bowl for 2 minutes. Turn the heat off. Cover pot and remove from the heat. Allow beans to sit for an hour. The beans are ready to use as if they were soaked.