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I do not own an iPhone. I have never seen “The Hangover.” I am not on Facebook, I have never knowingly listened to a Radiohead song and will do yoga only if forced and even then, refuse to let it relax me. It is not that that I purposely miss out on the things that the rest of the world has long embraced; I just sort of forget to pay attention. Except in the case of food.
So imagine my shock, pique even, to realize that everyone I know was well versed in the goodness of ribollita, and that I, for all these years, had been missing out. “Oh, when you add the bread at the end it’s so magical, isn’t it?” asked my friend A, when I told her what I was making for dinner. She already knew!
My friend and accomplished Italian cook fisheri grilled me about the recipe, sniffed that it should really be made with chicken stock, and then went on at some length about ribollitas he has known. I felt so left out.
But this is truly a better-late-than-never situation, because this soup is the perfect antidote to the season, which may or may not include soccer games in the driving rain, dogs who have to be coaxed out into the chill, and the unshakable sense as you open the door in the morning that the little gift of an uncommonly warm fall day will come no more.
Is this a weeknight dinner? I think it can be if a meal that takes roughly an hour to put together works for you midweek. For me it was the perfect Saturday night supper, to be consumed with a glass of red wine in front of the fire, topped with some chocolate fudge courtesy of the Incipient while we rummaged through my husband’s old yearbooks and made fun of his bangs.
We start at the beautiful beginning with onions and garlic, which, if you like to multi task, you can chop while talking to your colleague on the phone about the people at work whom you both would like to find employment in another state. The chili flakes are optional.
While that’s going you chop up your celery and carrot, toss those in, and then get going on your tomatoes. I used a 32-ounce can, which means that I did not add the last cup of water at the end. (Don’t worry: I am going to remind you of this later.) Yeah, I crushed them, but maybe not as hard as others do. I grabbed the last of the thyme from my herb garden, now on life support, and supplemented it with the bit of the oregano that was left too. I actually think this made for a slight improvement, but what do I know. Don’t forget the potato.
While that is all simmering in the water, wash your kale, pull apart your bread (I had no idea what la domestique meant by four to six slices but I used half of an Italian loaf and a slice of country bread; go ahead, talk about me behind my back) and if you need it, get that last cup of water ready. I probably threw the beans in before ten minutes of kale cooking, because at that point I was getting hungry.
As the bread soaked in, it was indeed such a magical transformation from liquid to hearty that I forgot to add the olive oil at the end. It was delicious anyway: bright, a tiny bit acidic, hearty. I shared it right away. No one should be bereft of ribollita.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper flakes
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 rib of celery, chopped
- 28 ounces (1 can) plum tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 potato, peeled and diced
- 1 pound cavolo nero, or any other variety of kale, trimmed and chopped into bite sized pieces
- 15 ounces (1 can) cannellini beans
- 4-6 thick slices of country bread, torn into pieces
- 4 cups water
- Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, and crushed red chili pepper flakes. Sweat the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Toss in the carrot and celery with a pinch of salt and sweat the vegetables 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, trim the hard stem ends off the tomatoes and discard. Crush the tomatoes with your hands.
- 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.
- Toss in the kale with another cup of water, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the canned beans and continue to simmer the soup 5 more minutes.
- Stir in the bread and serve with a drizzle of spicy Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil. The soup should be thickened by the bread, but not at all dry.
Photo by William Brinson.
By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.