Ribollita – a Tuscan Comfort Food

The events in our country on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany no less, have distressed me greatly as so many around the world. The images of the assault on the U.S. Capitol, the swarms of thugs overcoming an otherwise peaceful sanctuary and symbol of our democracy, and nightmarish visions of raging adults acting like out-of-control teenagers sickened me. Stunned and paralyzed, I sat transfixed in front of the television. Many commentators have equated the insurrection to that of 9/11. But at that time I had a family to wake up and care for, a classroom to lead, and students to surround me in solidarity. Here I was alone with the end of the world collapsing before my eyes. To draw myself out of such sorrow, cooking something warm and satisfying, even healthy could do wonders to restore the spirits! I was working on a blog post about the Italian traditional feast on New Year’s Day when I was sidetracked by the sad events in D.C. Somehow the blogpost seemed trivial and I’ve flipped to a recipe that I think can give you hope and warmth.

Ribollita meaning “boiled again” is a traditional Tuscan soup known for this name because it is usually made in great quantities, then reheated or “reboiled”as needed. Also known as bread soup or “zuppa di pane” because it is served over slices of rustic bread, it is a typical rustic soup from the central part of Tuscany or Maremma, although it is common to find it throughout the region in different forms. The star ingredient is black or lacinato kale and then whatever vegetables you have available in your refrigerator (I included in some diced zucchini) or garden depending on the season. Throw together a pot tonight and see it simmer, simmer, simmer your woes away!

Ingredients

1 medium onion chopped

2-3 carrots chopped

1 celery stalk chopped

1/4 of a small cabbage head

2-3 leaves of kale roughly chopped (does not have to be black kale. I have used other types, even spinach in a pinch). Depending on the size of the kale you have, you may want to increase or decrease it. Yield 4 cups of chopped kale should suffice.

1 large potato diced

1 8 oz can of cannellini beans

1 8 oz can of diced tomatoes

3-4 tbl. olive oil, salt to taste

rustic bread sliced

Instructions

Prep all the vegetables so that when you need them, you can add them quickly to the mix. In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil, then add the onions and cook them until translucent and fragrant. Add the celery and the carrots and cook them briefly for a few minutes. Add the greens including the cabbage, then stir. Next, add the tomatoes and the potatoes. Season with salt. After one or two big stirs, add water to cover the vegetables and then some (about an inch or two above the line of vegetables). You can use chicken or vegetable broth, but I find it is not necessary. Some cooks like to add a fresh bouquet of fresh herbs (basil, sage, thyme) – but I prefer to keep it simple. Allow the pot to come to a slow boil, then reduce to a simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half. I went swimming for an hour in the meantime and came back to find the soup just right for the next step. I add the cannellini beans at the very end because they are coming from a can. I barely drain them and toss them in the pot.

Correct the seasoning! If the soup seems too tasteless….add salt! Be aware that the soup on standing will acquire more flavor as it sits from day to day in the fridge and every time you reheat it, “ribollire,” the flavors will meld and strengthen. The texture of the vegetables will soften and blend.

Prepare the bowls by either toasting slices of good rustic bread (or baguettes) or frying them in a bit of vegetable oil, my favorite way. Put the slices on the bottom or sides of the bowls and pour the soup over the slices. The liquid will absorb a bit, but continue to pour more soup. Add a big dash of parmigiano over it all.

I know life delivers many sadnesses, but the joy of a steaming bowl of ribollita, maybe with a chunk of parmigiano thrown into it, saves the day. May this new year be good to you…Stay safe and be well!

Fusilli Vegetariani

   Fusilli with Carrots and Zucchini

Fusilli con carote e zucchine
Fusilli con carote e zucchine

What to make quickly when guests arrive on short notice, it is blistering hot outside, and the garden is overflowing with zucchini!? This was my conundrum last night. Try a pasta that can satisfy hungry appetites and go along well side-by-side with grilled meats and vegetables. The lovely part of this recipe is that you can use “the sauce” as a condiment for pasta or use it as a base for risotto, which I prepare often. The other lovely part of the recipe is that the carrots and zucchini are shredded (just like you would for a carrot salad). This not only cooks quickly, but the fine cut of the vegetables flavors the pasta intensely. I shred them in a food processor on a medium shredding blade, but you can also grate them by hand. And zip…. the prepping is done.

Ingredients

3-4 shredded and peeled carrots (about 2 cups)

1 -3 shredded zucchini (depending on size) (again about 2 cups – a little more ok)

½ onion sliced thin (I quarter the onion first then slice)

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

½ teaspoon pepper (or to taste)

a handful of fresh basil, chopped  or julienned

1 pound box of fusilli or penne (a short pasta works best)

grated parmigiano

Directions:

1. Put on a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Pour the olive oil in a wide 12 inch skillet over medium heat.Once the pan is hot, add the onions and cook until soft about five minutes. Add the carrots, stir, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the zucchini and stir again. Salt and pepper the vegetables and cook them until they turn soft about 10 minutes. You may have to add a little water if the vegetables need more moisture. Do not dry out too much because you will then add the pasta and you will need that liquid.

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At this point, if you are making risotto (and if you are, it is advisable that you cook it in a pot instead), add the Arborio rice (about 1 ½ cups) and proceed as you normally would by adding broth and stirring and so on.

For the pasta, instead, cook it according to package instructions. As you drain it, reserve some of the water to add to the pasta if it should look dry. Add the pasta to the vegetables and stir all over high heat for a minute. Adjust the seasoning and give it a last stir. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle the top with fresh basil and a generous handful of parmigiano. Serves 5 as a first course or 8 as a side with grilled meats and a salad.