Ribollita is a hearty and healthy Tuscan soup made by adding bread to vegetable soup. It’s an irresistibly delicious recipe that has been around for centuries.
Ribollita has a long history in Tuscany, some people believe that the soup goes back to the Middle Ages. The soup gets it name from the Italian word for “reboiled”, since the soup was originally made by taking day old vegetable soup and adding bread to thicken it. It was a meal made of very common and inexpensive ingredients, while also being hearty enough to fill you up. The combination of these factors is likely why the soup has been made for centuries.
I was first introduced to ribollita when I was in Florence. When I was 20, I spent a semester at an art school in Florence. It was one of the best things that I ever did. I majored in Art History, I love Italian food, and my Mom’s side of the family is Italian, so doing a semester in Florence just made sense.
I am not exaggerating when I say that it changed my life. Those months in Florence were the time when I fell in love with traveling, and gained the independence and confidence to travel alone. I got to learn art history not from the books, but out and about in museums and cathedrals.
Most importantly, Florence is what led me to Chicago. I met some of the closest friends in Florence, and when they ended up in Chicago, they convinced me to follow. Just seven weeks after I drove a U-Haul from New York City, I met Charles.
Italy is also the place where I first had to learn to cook for myself. It was the first time I was living in an apartment, and not with my parents or in a dorm. I had cooked a little, but mostly I was just helping my parents here and there. I didn’t have too much experience making a meal from start to finish.
When my school (Studio Art Centers International in case you are curious), hosted a couple cooking classes, I signed up. A lovely woman named Martha Corsi taught the class, and started by explaining the proper way to cook pasta, and then worked her way up to teaching us how to make more elaborate regional dishes, like ribollita.
We left the class with copies of a dozen classic Tuscan recipes. Some recipes where written out in big block letters and others had been typed on a typewriter. Those printouts are now covered in notes and stains and are lovingly frayed at the edges after 15 years.
I first tried ribollita during Martha Corsi’s class, but then I started to seek it out and order it on the rare occasion I went to a restaurant in Florence. I loved how Zaza’s ribollita was so thick that you could eat it with a fork. It’s one of my most vivid food memories.
It took some time before I was confident enough with my cooking stills to try making ribollita myself. I don’t know why I was so intimidated, perhaps I was wondering if my cooking could live up to such lovely food memories from Florence. It turns out ribollita is very easy to prepare. Now ribollita is something that I made about once a year.
I still use Martha Corsi’s recipe as a reference, but I also started to cook the soup in the traditional way of adding the bread and onions on top of the soup and then roasting them in the oven. The additional onions add a richness to the soup, and they will fill your home with the most enchanting scent. How gorgeous are the onions?
When a weekend snowstorm was about to hit Chicago, ribollita came to mind. Snowy days are best spent inside in the kitchen making soup. On Saturday morning I set about making ribollita. It is a meal meant for January, it perfect for a cold winter day, and it is filled with healthy vegetables so you can stick to your new years resolutions while eating it.
Although ribollita was born from transforming day old soup into a new meal, these days it is common for people to make a vegetable soup and to turn it into ribollita right away, which is what I have done.
A few notes about my ribollita recipe:
Usually red onions are placed on top of ribollita, but I prefer white, so I used white.
I used swiss chard, but you could opt to use kale or cabbage. Black cabbage is traditionally used. I would recommend against using spinach since it doesn’t hold up as well and may get too soggy and fall apart.
Traditionally this soup is made in a ceramic pot, but any oven-safe pot will work.
I know this recipe looks long, but I just wanted to write clear and detailed instructions, I promise the steps are easy!
How to make Ribollita:
Ribollita (Italian Vegetable and Bread Soup)
- 2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup Olive Oil
- 3 Large White Onions
- 1 cup chopped Carrots
- 1 cup chopped Celery
- Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
- 3-4 cloves crushed Garlic
- 1 teaspoon Oregano
- 2 14.5 ounce cans Cannellini beans
- 2 cups chopped Tomato I used fresh, but canned is ok too
- 1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
- 5-7 cups of Vegetable Broth
- 1 Parmesan Rind
- 3 cups chopped Swiss Chard or Kale
- 3-4 large inch thick slices of Tuscan Bread
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- I like to garnish with some fresh Basil
- First take one of your onions, and chop it so that you have one cup of chopped onions.
- Heat 2 tablespoons in a large oven-safe pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Once heated, add the chopped onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. Season generously with salt and pepper, and let the vegetables sauté for about 10 minutes, until soft and just starting to gain a little color. You may want to reduce the heat a little once the veggies get going.
- Keep an eye on the sautéing vegetables while you slice the remaining two onions. You want to have round slices that will hold their shape and not fall apart. You can probably get 8-9 slices out of a large onion. Set aside.
- Drain and rinse one can of the beans, then place in a food processor to puree. If you don't have a food processor you can mash with a fork or potato masher. Pureeing the beans helps to give the soup its distinctive texture. Drain the rinse the second can of beans, but leave those beans whole.
By now your vegetables should be nicely sautéed. Stir in the oregano, tomatoes, beans, and tomato paste, and let simmer for 2-3 minutes.
- Add 5 cups of vegetable broth to the pot, and bring the soup to a steady simmer. Add the parmesan rind, and let simmer for 20 minutes.
- Arrange your oven racks so that your pot will fit in your oven. Heat your oven to 500 degrees.
Stir in the swiss chard or kale, then place the slices of bread on top of the soup, arranging them in a single flat layer so they do not overlap. I like to cut the slices of bread in half to make this easy.
- Next, arrange the onions on top the bread, letting them overlap slightly. You want the liquid of the soup to be just reaching the onions, if it isn't, go ahead an add more broth to the soup. Now take that 1/4 cup of olive oil, and brush half of it over the onions.
- Sprinkle half of the Parmesan on top.
- Bake uncovered for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven. Check the amount of liquid in the pot, adding more if necessary. You want the liquid to be just reaching those onions - it is better to have extra liquid than to have your soup dry out or overcook. Next brush the remaining olive oil over onions, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Return the soup to the oven for another 20-25 minutes, until the onions are golden brown.
- Remove the soup from the oven, and stir it up. It is meant to be very thick, but you can always add more broth if you find it to be too thick. Sometimes I just top off each bowl of soup with a few tablespoons of extra broth.
- Traditionally Ribollita is served with olive oil poured in the shape of the letter "C" on top, and no cheese. I however, I do like to sprinkle Parmesan over the soup. Please don't tell the Italians. I also garnish with some fresh basil with adds a burst of fresh flavor to the soup.
Usually red onions are placed on top of ribollita, but I prefer white, so I used white. I used swiss chard, but you could opt to use kale or cabbage. Black cabbage is traditionally used. I would recommend against using spinach since it doesn't hold up as well and may get too soggy and fall apart. Traditionally this soup is made in a ceramic pot, but any oven-safe pot will work.
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The bowls in the photos are from the market in Essaouira, Morocco. I love to buy things for my kitchen when I am traveling.