Monday, January 23, 2012

A Garden in Your Bowl

So it’s been a few weeks since I wrote. Getting back after the holidays, starting a new job all of that fun jazz has gotten in the way of me writing. But I’m back and I’m ready to cook. While in Italy we had an amazing dinner one night, it was a bistro attached to our hotel. For all intents and purposes, it should have been a decent quick dinner after a long day of walking. But it was so much better than that. A delicious meal of fresh from the farm foods as we learned that our waitress/chef/baker also spent a few days a week out on a farm in the countryside and brought fresh produce in with her.

I had never heard of ribollita before we got to Italy. Our first few days in Florence I saw it all over the menu, but let’s be honest, who’s going to fill up on soup when there’s pasta and wild boar to eat? However for whatever reason on this night, I saw it on the menu and decided it was a necessity. What came out was a steaming bowl of a Tuscan garden on my table. The flavors were so rich, I nearly licked the bowl clean.

So you, like I did, are asking yourself what is ribollita? Well it’s a Tuscan peasant soup that literally translates to reboiled. The base of the soup is minestrone, however after it’s cooked, its left to cool and sit in the refrigerator for a few days, like all good leftovers should. Then as its getting reheated, very stale Italian bread is added to it. The bread soaks in the broth and softens, making it more of a stew than a soup. It takes some time, because honestly the minestrone is delicious on its own, but if you wait the extra day or so, the flavors really knock you out! Besides, it’s perfect for a cold winters night.

13 cups (or more) water, divided

1 1/4 cups dried cannellini (white kidney beans; about 8 ounces)

12 large fresh sage leaves

8 garlic cloves; 5 sliced, 3 chopped

4 tsp (or more) fine sea salt, divided

6 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus additional for drizzling

1 large onion, chopped

2 large celery stalks, diced

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 large unpeeled Yukon Gold potato, scrubbed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered through core, sliced crosswise

1 large pinch of fresh thyme

1 small bunch kale cut crosswise into 1-inch ribbons (about 6 cups)

1 small bunch green chard (about 4 large leaves), center stem removed, cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide ribbons (about 6 cups)

4 cups thinly sliced savoy cabbage

5 large plum tomatoes, chopped

1 good Parmesan cheese rind

Pinch of dried crushed red pepper

3 cups low sodium, light chicken broth (if you’re being Vegetarian Friendly, then Vegetable Broth

½ loaf of stale Italian bread, cut into 1 inch pieces

Overnight, Soak beans in water. When ready to start cooking, combine 8 cups water, beans, sage, and sliced garlic in large saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until beans are tender, stirring occasionally and adding more water by 1/4 cupfuls to keep beans submerged, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on age of beans. This can be done a day ahead of time.

In a large pot, I used my Round Dutch Oven, heat 3 tablespoons oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion; sprinkle with sea salt. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add chopped garlic; stir 2 minutes. Add celery, carrot, potato, fennel, and thyme; cook until vegetables are tender and begin to turn brown in spots, stirring often, 15 to 18 minutes. Add kale, chard, cabbage, tomatoes, Parmesan rind, 5 cups water, and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add beans with cooking liquid and crushed red pepper. Add 2 cups broth and season with salt and pepper.

Take off the stove and let cool. You can either let this sit for a few days, or overnight (I chose to do it overnight).

When you’re ready to reboil, Add bread to soup and simmer, stirring often to break up bread into smaller pieces and adding more broth by 1/2 cupfuls to thin, if desired. Season with sea salt and pepper.

If you aren’t able to get the bread as stale as you’d like, you can do what I did. Turn the oven onto 250, lay the cut bread on a baking tray and put in oven. Check every 10 minutes. The bread should not be brown, just incredibly dry.

Serve the bowl with a little cheese and a drizzle of good olive oil

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