Aboard Four Sum, our 28-foot Winslow sloop, I learned to appreciate so-called peasant dishes, such as coq au vin, French onion soup, bouillabaisse and so on. They’re simple and economical—a good way to use up whatever’s on hand. This Tuscan bean soup is no exception. Known as ribollita (which means “reboiled”), it’s an Italian comfort-food classic. § One of the great things about this hearty, nutritious meal is that you can make it almost entirely from canned, salted or dried ingredients. You can make it vegetarian, or with bacon or pancetta. You can use up stale bread and make croutons or toasted slices for topping. It can also be served cold: In Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Food Encyclopedia (1994 edition), he mentions enjoying chilled ribollita in a Milan eatery on a scorching day, and proclaimed it “delicious.” §Aboard a boat, I use canned beans for this. Dried beans need soaking time and use precious water. Canned beans keep longer, and the texture is always right—not always the case with dried beans. If you prefer dried beans, just prep/soak beforehand according to package instructions. You can make this soup ahead of time, minus the bread/cheese topping, and reheat—it can be eaten immediately, but the flavors will improve (as its name implies) when it is twice boiled. Buon appetito!
Tuscan Bean Soup (Ribollita)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 ounces pancetta (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, sliced into rounds
- 2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
- 2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
- Water, as needed
- 2 heads kale or other leafy green (see “Cook’s Notes”)
- 1/2 pound Swiss chard (optional)
- 1 or 2 sprigs fresh rosemary or thyme, OR 1 tsp. dried
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Rustic bread, sliced
- Parmesan cheese, grated
Serves 6 to 8. To serve 4, halve the ingredient amounts.
Remove tough stems from kale or other greens and slice thinly. Set aside. Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven. (Add pancetta, if using, and cook till a bit of fat is rendered.) Add garlic, onion, carrots and celery, and saute until softened, being careful not to let the garlic brown. Mash 1 cup of the beans with the back of a spoon or potato masher. Add to the pot tomatoes, herbs, all beans and water (to reach desired broth consistency).
Add sliced greens, and simmer until wilted and soft, about 10 minutes. Add Swiss chard, if using, and simmer for another 5-10 minutes, until all greens are wilted and carrots are tender. Season to taste.
Top soup bowls with rounds of hearty bread, drizzle with remaining olive oil, and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan. (If you have a microwave on board, heat bowls briefly to melt cheese before eating.)
Preparation: At anchor
Time: 1 hour
You can use any fresh, leafy greens in the recipe above, such as spinach, endive, cabbage, collards, escarole, mustard greens and bok choy, to name a few. Try what’s available locally, wherever you’re cruising.