One of the hallmarks of Italian cooking, which sets it apart from the way we cook and eat in many parts of the US, is nearly complete devotion to the season. It’s cold outside and I’m starting to think about which warm, comforting, delicious foods they must be making in Tuscany right now. Dark green leafy vegetables are in season (e.g. Tuscan kale), so that’s what you’d find right now in their ribollita.
For those of you who haven’t yet tasted ribollita, I’ll try to do justice to this delicious, savory Tuscan soup. Ribollita began as a dish made cheaply by peasants who were simply making do with vegetables and herbs from their garden and day-old bread. It all begins with minestrone, a hearty stock-based vegetable soup most of us have tried. A good minestrone consists of things like carrots, celery, potatoes, fresh herbs, onions, maybe zucchini, and cannellini, which are white Tuscan beans. A family could enjoy the soup for dinner, and there’d usually be leftovers the next day. This is when it gets good. The soup would be enriched with toasted or stale bread and reboiled (ribollendo), creating what is referred to as ribollita (basically, “reboiled” minestrone plus bread).
I’m not much of a chef, but one thing I have learned over the years is that many soups and stews are tastier a day or more after they are first prepared. The flavors blend in the fridge and then beautifully meld together through the reheating process. Also, as much as I like a good minestrone, there’s something to be said for the rich, starchy addition of bread. I’ve tried minestrone that includes pasta noodles, but it just doesn’t have the same effect. When it comes to vegetable soup, ribollita is where it’s at, in my opinion.
In searching for authentic ribollita recipes, I struggled to pin down consensus on quantities of the ingredients. This is because the minestrone traditionally used for ribollita is prepared with whatever is in season, in whatever quantity is available— quel che c’e (“whatever there is”). In winter there may be kale, in summer there may be cabbage. It is what it is. This recipe sounds pretty good to me, and I plan to try it soon.
Ribollita is one of several examples of beloved Tuscan fare originating from the region’s peasant culture. Another of my favorites is pappa al pomodoro (tomato bread soup). As you might imagine, its roots are similar to those of ribollita. What is growing in the soil? Tomatoes! Let’s add yesterday’s bread and some wild herbs picked outside, and voila.
Recently, Brandy and I received an email from a client who visited one of our properties (Casa di Loggia) over the summer. She told us all about the adventures they had exploring Tuscany. One story that made me laugh and prompted me to write this blog post occurred near the end of their trip. They had already discovered (and frequented) a charming local restaurant within walking distance of their villa. One night they decided they wanted to dine in at the villa, but had a craving for the restaurant’s hearty ribollita. They walked into the restaurant holding a large pot, asked for it to be filled and walked out with dinner! The chef gave them a strange look, and then complied with a smile (as is the custom in Italy). Who knows, maybe this client has started a trend in Italian take-out.