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 white beans instead of stale bread to thicken the soup… just a little. Plus it’s made with smoked bacon, 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.
Lacinato kale is a great addition to any hearty dish
Also known as “Nero di Toscana”, “Dinosaur” or Black kale, it has a deliciously sweet, rich and earthy taste which makes it the perfect addition to any hearty meal, whether it be a winter minestrone, pot of lentils, or traditional Tuscan ribollita. This type of kale is popping up more and more at the farmer’s markets in Hamburg and although it’s been grown and harvested in Tuscany for centuries, it actually grown locally here as well. Sold by the bunch, it’s easy to find at my weekly farmer’s market, but you can also find it at some organic food stores. If you can’t find lacinato kale, don’t fret, just use Swiss chard or curly kale instead.
Preparing Dried Beans for Ribollita
If you choose to use dried beans for this Kale 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.
2 x 400 g can organic butter beans (or cannellini beans), rinsed and drained (see tipps below for dried beans)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
150 g smoked lean diced bacon
3 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups chopped)
2 large carrots, diced
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or 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, to garnish (optional)
1. In a large heavy-bottomed pot (the largest one you have), heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the bacon and onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes, until onions softened.
2. Lower the heat slightly and add the carrots, fennel, garlic, chili flakes, a small pinch of salt and a generous amount of pepper. Cook for another 7-8 minutes, until vegetables are crisp-tender.
3. Add the tomatoes, kale and white wine. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 5 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 broth).
4. Bring the soup to a light boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
5. Remove the stew from the heat and stir in the parsley. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer to serving bowls and garnish with grated parmesan.
This soup is also great the next day. Just cool and refrigerate overnight, then serve reheated as a true “Ribollita” the next day.
I’ve made this with both canned beans and dried beans, both are delicious, though if you have the time, I recommend using dried beans. I think they are superior in taste.
TO PREPARE DRIED BEANS: For dried beans, use 1 cup giant white beans, soaked in water overnight. Then 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.
If you make this Tuscan Kale and White Bean Soup (Ribollita) recipe, I’d love to hear how it turned out for you! Be sure to rate it and leave a comment below to let me know! Especially if you have tips for other readers. Or take a picture and tag me on Instagram @ellerepublic and don’t foget to hashtag #ellerepublic so I don’t miss it!