Italian Peasant Soup – Ribollita

November 18, 2011

My Nonna is a fabulous cook. No doubt about it. Anyone who has been lucky enough to try it would agree with me. As a kid, my brother and I attended Catholic School once a week, usually a Wednesday night. On those days my Nonna would pick us up from regular school, bring us to her house, make dinner and then drive us to the Church in Ladner. Eating at Nonna’s was always a treat. She can cook pretty much anything. Every Christmas Eve we have our Seafood feast, no meat, and I can remember her making Calamari from scratch, with the sink filled with tiny octopus. She is definitely not afraid of cooking, or eating, anythign. A typical European diet, we like food. Period.

We would usually also go to her house on Friday’s for a family dinner with my dad, mom and brother. My Nonna would make dinner, while my Nonno made comments and critques from the couch in Italian. The man never spoke a word of English in my entire 13 years of knowing him. He passed away when I was younger. One thing she made well, besides the amazing homemade pastas, sauces, polenta and other various Italian dishes, was soup. She still cooks, but I get to eat it on a less often basis. This soup reminds me of my childhood. The presense, taste, texture, smell of Romano Beans brings me back to my 12 year old self, sitting in my Nonna’s kitchen with my brother and Nonno devouring a large bowl of soup, my favourite is Pasta E Fagioli, or, pasta with beans. Usually a tomato-ey soup base, a hint of ground beef, romano beans and ditalini pasta, like penne cut up into tiny pieces, but smooth. With a glass of milk of course (Before I realized I had an allergy..) And usually topped it off with a heaping spoonful of freshly grated parmesan cheese. This soup closely resembles my Nonna’s, though nothing will ever replace her cooking. I should really video-tape her one of these days so I can save her recipes for later, though I don’t think she follows a recipe. All by memory, and years of practice.

Soup is a great fall meal, it’s easy and quick to throw together, doesn’t require too much looking after, and can feed a lot of people. Or, in our case, two. We literally ate almost the entire pot in one night. I had three bowls.. It’s all veggies though so it’s ok, right?? Thought so.

Notes: According to Lidia Bastianich, the queen of Italian cuisine, cavolo nero is the traditional green used in Tuscan Ribollita, a hearty vegetable soup thickened with day old bread. Ribollita is Italian for “reboiled.” Ribollita was originally peasant food, invented to stretch leftover minestrone. The soup was so delicious and satisfying, Ribollita eventually morphed into a dish in its own right. Ribollita is a true pantry supper. It begins with soffrito, the Italian base of sautéed onions, celery, carrot, and garlic. Canned tomatoes provide depth of flavor while cannellini beans are a cheap but tasty source of protein. The blistered leaves of cavolo nero contribute texture and a nutty, slightly bitter flavor. Chunks of stale bread added at the end of cooking absorb broth, thickening the soup. This is not a long-cooking soup, but adding ingredients in stages helps to develop flavor.

I left out the bread.. I don’t remember my Nonna putting bread into any of her soups, but they were certainly served with a slice or two. And I added Romano beans instead of Cannellini, and I added white kidney beans as well.

This is definitely a soup that eats like a meal. Hearty and nutricious!

Italian Ribbolita
adapted from here: Food52 

Serves 6 Or two really hungry people..
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 28 ounces (1 can) plum tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, or Italian spices
  • 1 potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 bunch of Kale
  • 15 ounces (1 can) Romano Beans, rinsed and drained
  • 15 ounces (1 can) White Kidney, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups water
  1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic, onion. Sweat the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Toss in the carrot and celery with a pinch of salt and sweat the vegetables 10 minutes.
  3. Crush the tomatoes with your hands in a bowl.
  4. Pour the tomatoes (and their juices) into the pot with the thyme, potato, and 3 cups water. Bring the soup to a simmer, turn the heat down and partially cover with the lid. Keep the soup at a low simmer for about 20 minutes.
  5. Toss in the kale with another cup of water, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper, I also added ground garlic spice. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the canned beans and continue to simmer the soup 5 more minutes.Serve hot, or warm. It tastes even better the next day!

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  • Reply Yael November 18, 2011 at 11:16 PM

    YUM!!! What a great soup for a cold winter afternoon!! Can’t wait to try it!

    • Reply Alicia November 20, 2011 at 6:44 PM

      Thanks! It is definitely a winter soup – I ate it for three days! haha

    • Reply Alicia December 12, 2011 at 2:48 PM

      @ Yael Hope you like it!

  • Reply Aunt Louise November 26, 2011 at 7:06 PM

    Hi Lou, well this inspired me to use what farmers market Root Veg I had in my fridge. I had some Lima beans with some port tomato past concotion and ta da!! Moose broth! Yes moose broth from a roast I had roasted. It was Yummy , your Nonna’s recipie with a wild taste. It did taste great the next day and the next day! Thanks for the inspiration. Your Nonno would have enjoyed the Moose twist to it he use to yak to Uncle Marv and would always call him “Mike” Luvs Aunt Weeze

    • Reply Alicia November 26, 2011 at 9:26 PM

      haha! Glad it was good auntie weeze!! That is too funny ‘Mike’, he called me ‘lisa’ lol. That sounds delicious! I love a good soup, and I love when it lasts for a couple days! Xoxo

  • Reply Melissa November 28, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    Thanks Alicia. I always loved your Nonna’s cooking. I remember one time writing down her recipe for Biscotti and Nonno was helping me translate the Italian Recipe via hand gestures. I’m going to make make this soup. Looks so good for winter!

  • Reply Jessica's Dinner Party December 4, 2011 at 6:02 AM

    Food is such a vehicle of memories. Love when something takes me back to a loved one!

    • Reply Alicia December 12, 2011 at 2:48 PM

      @ Jessica: Definitely a connection between food and people!

  • Reply Koko December 7, 2011 at 8:10 PM

    LOL- “serves 6….or 2 really hungry people” Love it! hahaha

    • Reply Alicia December 12, 2011 at 2:47 PM

      @ Koko – haha sometimes it’s just that good!

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