Sunday, March 23, 2014


It's a well-established fact that once I've acquired a beloved new cookbook, I can rarely restrain myself from getting a little obsessed. After pouring through each and every page, bookmarking as I go, how can I restrain myself? In continuing the Mollie Katzen recipe theme started earlier this week, I have another ready to go.

Ribollita is one of most delicious culinary creations of Tuscany, and like so many beloved dishes, originated as peasant fare. Literally meaning "reboiled", this dish began as a repurposing of the previous day's minestrone or vegetable soup, fortified with leftover bread. I'm fortunate enough to be deliberately preparing this meal rather than cobbling it together from leftovers, but I have no less appreciation of this affordable collection of humble vegetables melded into a hearty stew.

This meal is a labor of love and leisure, the kind of weekend project to let to lazily simmer on a Sunday afternoon while you mill about the house or relax with a good book. It might be tempting to short cut the process with some canned cannellinis, but much of flavor comes from the herb-infused beans and bean broth used later to cook the vegetables, so look to a different recipe for a quick ribollita. This can be streamlined a bit into a weeknight meal by preparing the beans the night before you'd like to serve the soup, making sure to reserve some of the bean broth as well. Each bite is herby and earthy and delicious down to the core in the vegan rendition, but the savory Parmesan takes it one more scrumptious step that my Dairyland origins wouldn't let me dream of omitting. Finally, a slice of rustic bread is absolutely imperative for staying honest to the peasant origins and more importantly, mopping up every last bit of beans, veggies, and broth.

adapted from The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen
serves 6

For the beans:
1 cup dried cannellini beans, soaked for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight)
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
3 fresh sage leaves
1 3-inch spring fresh rosemary
Several sprigs fresh thyme
1 medium Parmsan rind (up to 4 ounces; optional)

1. Drain the soaked beans and place them in a large pot along with enough fresh water to cover by at least 2 inches (3 inches is even better). Add the garlic and herbs and bring to a boil.

2. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 1 1/2 hours, or until the beans are as soft as they can get while still keeping their shape. (Make sure they are truly soft. No undercooked beans!) If you like, you can add the Parmesan ring about 45 minutes into the simmering.

3. Remove from the heat and drain in a strainer set over a large heatproof bowl, saving the cooking water. (Fish out the herbs and Parmesan rind, if using; it's okay to leave in the garlic.)

For the stew:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onion (1 large)
2 celery stalks, diced
1 large carrot, cut into half circles about 1/8-inch thick or into bite-sized chunks
3/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
2 tablespoons minced or crushed garlic
1/2 pound green cabbage, cut into bite-size pieces (2 heaping cups)
1 large or 2 small bunches lacinato kale (1/2 pound total), stemmed and chopped fairly small (4 packed cups) or spinach or other hearty greens
Black pepper
About 6 slices artisan bread (day-old is fine), sch as ciabatta or Pugliese, toasted
Grated aged Parmesan, Pecorino, or Asiago (optional)

1. Place a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat for about a minute, then add 2 tablespoons of the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften. Stir in the celery, carrot, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1 tablespoon of the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often.

2. Stir in the cabbage, kale, and remaining 1 tablespoon garlic, sprinkling them with another 1/2 teaspoon salt as you go. The pot will be crowded at first, but the vegetables will cook down. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, until all the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add small amounts of the bean cooking water (1/2 cup at a time) if needed to prevent sticking, but otherwise try to force-cook the vegetables in their own moisture, adding as little water as possible.

3. When the vegetables are done to your liking, add the beans, stirring them in gently so they don't break. Add a little more bean-cooking water, if you wish. Cover again and cook for just a few more minutes. Taste to adjust the salt and add a good amount of black pepper.

4. Serve hot, drizzled with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and topped with the toasted bread. If you want to enjoy a cheese-crusted experience, spoon the stew into ovenproof ceramic bowls (as you would with French onion soup), top with the bread sliced, sprinkle some cheese over the bread, and broil briefly.

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