I'm afraid I missed my calling as an old Italian peasant woman.
I don't smoke or mutter curses under my breath (yet), but I do save the heels of bread and use every last floppy celery stalk in my fridge before restocking. If only it were at an open air market where I could quibble and gesticulate for an hour before shuffling my way back up the steep hill, stopping halfway for a Campari at the bar.
Even here, in our land o' plenty and convenience, I do better with scarcity than I do with abundance, always preferring to make something out of slim pickings than to be given carte blanche.
Not everyone appreciates this quality in me. Especially not those who eat my food and who like a piece of steak now and then, but get beans and resuscitated bread instead.
The Tuscan stew, ribollita, defines peasant cuisine. Meaning "reboiled," the recipe's original purpose was to stretch yesterday's minestrone by re-cooking it with yesterday's bread and serving it today.
Grant your own pot a few luxuries--a pair of Parmigiano rinds, a whole pound of Tuscan kale, and the time to make use of dried instead of canned beans--and you'll feel far from deprived.
Throw in a bottle of this and golden zigzags of your best olive oil and you'll be living high on the hog--without having to bring home the bacon.
- 1 pound of borlotti (cranberry) or cannellini beans, picked over then submerged by several inches of cold water and soaked overnight (10-14 hours)
- salt, divided
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for finishing
- 1 sweet or yellow onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, microplaned
- 4 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 28-oz. jar of whole plum tomatoes
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 8 cups of water and/or leftover liquid from cooking the beans
- 2 Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary or sage
- 1 pound Tuscan kale (cavolo nero), ribs removed and leaves chopped
- 1/2 pound day-old country bread, torn into pieces
For the beans: Begin cooking your soaked beans at least 3 hours before you are ready for soup. Drain them, rinse them, and place them in a Dutch oven submerged by an inch or two of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then let them cook over a barely discernible simmer with the lid propped halfway on/off for an hour. Taste them and when they are edible, but not yet enjoyable, add 2 tsp. of salt and then resume cooking until they're creamy on the inside, but still retaining their shape (anywhere from another 1/2-hour to 1-1/2 hours).
If you're not over it yet, begin making the soup. Otherwise, separate the beans from the liquid and refrigerate both for up to a week, or freeze for a month or two.
For the soup: In a large, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat, bring the olive oil to a shimmer. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot (along with a generous application of salt and pepper) and cook until softened but not browned--about 10 minutes.
Over the pot, squish the tomatoes with your bare hands, adding any juices from the jar too. Stir in the crushed red pepper flakes, and simmer for another 10 minutes or so.
Add three-quarters of the beans, the 8 cups of liquid, another pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Drop the heat to a simmer before slipping in the (magic) cheese rinds and herbs.
Meanwhile, use a fork (plus a dribble of water) to mash the remaining beans into a paste. Fold it, along with the kale and the bread into the soup and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens have wilted and the bread has begun to break down, about 20 minutes more.
Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve with all-you-can-pour olive oil (and Parmigiano flurries if you're feeling flush).