Minestra di Pane and Ribollita

Ribollita in the Making

Ribollita in the Making

Most Italian bread soups are decidedly frugal. However, Tuscany’s Minestra di Pane, which becomes Ribollita if left overnight and reheated the next day, is much richer, a hearty winter vegetable soup with greens, beans, potatoes and cavolo nero (black leaf kale, a long-leafed variety of winter cabbage whose leaves are a very dark purplish green), to which stale bread is added. It’s one of the finest ways to use stale bread you’ll ever encounter, and you may find yourself seeking out Tuscan bread (which is made without salt, and baked directly on the floor of the oven, giving it a firm crunchy crust) to enjoy it.

This recipe will serve 6 (a perhaps optimistic estimate) and will also expand very well; Tuscans commonly make large pots following these general proportions and enjoy it while it lasts. The pot here? A bit less than half of a batch I made in several pots, one of which (if I remember right) went to some friends.

  • 1 pound (450 g) dried white (cannellini)  beans, washed and soaked for three hours
  • A small onion, a small carrot, a six inch stick of celery, and a small bunch of parsley, minced together
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) cavolo nero or black-leaf kale, shredded
  • 1 pound (450 g) beet greens, ribbed and shredded
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) potatoes, peeled and diced
  • Salt, pepper, and a sprig of thyme
  • Thinly sliced day-old Italian or French white bread; it is important that the crumb be firm and that it have nice crusts
  • Extravirgin olive oil (to be used at the table)

Boil the beans in lightly salted water.

When they’re almost cooked, sauté the onion mixture in the oil, in a heavy bottomed pot. When the onion has become translucent, add the tomato paste and the liquid from the beans. Add the cabbage, beet greens, and potatoes. Stir in the beans and season to taste with salt, pepper, and the sprig of thyme. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked (taste a piece for doneness), and remove the thyme. Take a pot proportionate to the volume of the soup and the bread and fill it with alternating layers of thinly sliced bread and soup, making sure the bread is damp, until the soup is used up (you may not use all the bread).

A Restaurant Serving of Ribollita

A Restaurant Serving of Ribollita

When you are done heat the soup through over a gentle flame, stirring gently occasionally,  lest the bottom scorch.

Served immediately, this dish is called minestra di pane, or bread soup, and is good. However time works an extraordinary magic on it, and if you can make it ahead, and then reheat it to obtain ribollita, by all means do.

Serve it as a first course, with a cruet of extra virgin olive oil so your diners can sprinkle it into their soup according to their taste. The wine? A light zesty red, for example a Chianti Colli Fiorentini would go well, as would a rosé.


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Categories: First Courses from Tuscany, Minestroni & Zuppe

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.


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