If you ask anyone what is a typical Tuscan dish that’s hearty, filling and perfect for a cold winter’s night, you’ll likely get the answer “a traditional Ribollita”, otherwise known as a rustic Tuscan vegetable stew. It’s loaded with dark greens, lots of beans, vegetables and thickened with day-old bread. In my version, which isn’t exactly an authentic Ribollita, I’ve loaded it up with kale, and have used my favorite giant white beans instead of stale bread to thicken the soup… just a little. Plus it’s made with smoked bacon and garnished with merguez sausage — all of which give it a lovely deep flavor.
Ribollita literally means “reboiled” and is rumored as being a dish that frugal Tuscan cooks created to use up leftover vegetables and bread from the week. Whatever the story, the process of reboiling the soup thickens it and makes it even more flavorful — so some say it’s even better the next day.
Preparing Dried Beans for Ribollita
Preparing the beans takes a little foresight, so plan ahead. You’ll need to soak the beans overnight in a bowl of water with a ratio of at least 3 cups water per 1 cup dried beans. This will yield you about 2 1/2 cups cooked and will give you faster cooking beans the next day. Depending on how well they were soaked they will take 1,5 – 2 hours to cook. Because of this, I always make extra and store them in the refrigerator in the remaining cooking liquid along with a splash of olive oil and a dash of salt. They keep for up to 5 days this way.
If you are pressed for time, use canned beans. Though, I think, dried beans are far superior in taste.
Kale Ribollita with Merguez
1 cup giant white beans (butter beans), soaked in water overnight (or 2 cans of cannellini or butter beans, rinsed and drained)
450 g lamb merguez sausage (this works out to be 5 sausages, depending on size)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
150 g smoked lean diced bacon (can be substituted with pancetta)
3 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups chopped)
2 large carrots, diced
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
6 handfuls of kale, stems trimmed off and leaves chopped (about 6 cups chopped)
1/3 cup dry white wine (80 ml)
5 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Freshly grated parmesan (optional)
1. Drain and rinse the beans. In a large pot, add the beans and cover with 4-5 cm of water. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and cook, partially covered, until the beans are tender, but still hold their shape. This takes about 1,5 hours or more, so plan ahead. The beans should be cooked but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the merguez sausage and brown on each side, for about 8 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate and set aside.
3. In a large heavy-bottomed pot (the largest one you have), heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and bacon and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes, until onions softened.
4. Lower heat to medium-low and add the carrots, fennel, garlic, chili flakes, salt and a generous amount of pepper. Cook for another 7-8 minutes, until vegetables are crisp-tender.
5. Add the tomatoes, kale and white wine. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 7-8 minutes. Add the broth and two-thirds of the beans. Mash or puree the remaining beans with a little water, until smoothish. Stir the beans into the soup (the bean puree helps thicken up the soup).
6. Bring to soup to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the sausage into bit-sized pieces.
7. Remove the stew from the heat and stir in the parsley. Season with more salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowls and garnish with grated parmesan and slices of merguez sausage.
This soup is also great the next day. Just cool and refrigerate overnight, then serve reheated as a true “Ribollita” the next day.