Nearly four years ago, when my friend Laura and I were visiting Florence, it was Ribollita—a kale and white bean soup thickened with stale bread—that consoled us. Our entire ten day trip had been punctuated by the cold: it was December, snow was falling and we could never get warm enough. It didn’t help that the cafes charged extra money if you wanted to sit down to drink your cappuccino. In the San Lorenzo Mercato, though, we found a stall selling soup, and if you were lucky, you could nab a seat at the communal table. We ordered the Ribollita, handed over a few crumpled Euros and scurried into two open seats at the table. Never mind that we were eating from paper bowls with plastic spoons, elbow to elbow with strangers; each spoonful of Ribollita bolstered our spirits and satisfied our stomachs. Finally, we were warm.
Recipe adapted from Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks.
Makes 8 hearty servings.
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2-3 medium carrots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound lacinato kale (dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale, cavolo nero), chopped
4 cups cooked white beans, divided
8 cups water
½ pound (4 large slices) crustless loaf of bread, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 parmesan rind (optional, but oh so good!)
zest of one lemon
Make the Ribollita
Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over low heat. Add onions, celery and carrots and cook for 10-12 minutes, until beginning to soften. Stir occasionally and do not let the vegetables brown. When vegetables begin to soften, add the garlic and cook for 2-3 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the diced tomatoes and crushed red pepper flakes and simmer for 5 minutes to further soften vegetables, stirring as necessary. Add kale, 3 cups of white beans and water to pot and mix thoroughly. Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to add the kale in batches to wilt it in order to make room for all of it. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes or so, until the kale is wilted.
Meanwhile, mash the remaining cup of white beans into a thick paste; add a little water if necessary. After the kale has wilted, stir the mashed beans, pieces of bread and parmesan rind (if using) into the soup. Simmer the soup for 30 or so more minutes, until the bread thickens the soup and the vegetables are thoroughly cooked. Taste the soup and add salt to taste. To serve, ladle soup into a bowl and top with lemon zest.