On Mondays, I always like to cook us a vegetable laden, low calorie meal, a sort of detox following the cooking/eating frenzy that we often spend the weekends in.
As it’s now halfway through the month and, as usual, most of our money has been spent paying bills (and, er, buying cookbooks), I always find it a challenge to cook something different using just the scraps of ingredients left in the fridge. Soup is always a good option, being one of the most heart-warming dishes known to man, but isn’t always substantial enough. Enter Ribollita.
Ribollita is an Italian soup, translating as reboiled. What this often refers to, in Italy, is the reusing of the previous night’s Minestrone, mixed in with left over vegetables (in this case, Cavolo Nero or black cabbage) and chunks of stale bread. Re-boiled also refers to the soup often being prepared the day before it is to be eaten, thus allowing the strong flavours to intensify and meld. This produces a wonderfully thick, rich and hearty soup that is almost a stew. Whilst the word 'reboiled' conjures up shuddering memories of school dinners, this is eons away from the cabbage that was to within an inch of it's life that we endured at school.
Utilising my own bedraggled and more than a little limp vegetables and stale bread (I am now in the habit of freezing any nub ends of bread that are left, rather than having to buy a loaf simply to make breadcrumbs), plus an unopened pack of Butter Beans (which are totally untraditional but that was all I had). It must have been a hit though because there were no leftovers so I am unable to state whether or not it is better the next day (although I am sure it is!).
150g Dry White Beans, preferably Cannellini, but I used Butter Beans. Butter Beans are not quite as successful because they suffer from a slightly mealy, crumbly texture that tends to cook much quicker than other dry beans. They have a tendency to break up into the soup. Whichever beans you use, they must be soaked all day or overnight (I put mine in cold water at 7.30am to cook at 5.15pm and they were just fine).
1 Small Potato, peeled
1 Old Tomato (or any tomato in fact, I put old because most people have one tomato rolling around their fridge somewhere)
3 Sticks of Celery, skimmed over with a vegetable peeler. No one wants l celery strands wrapped around their vocal cords. I used the frondy bits that you get on untrimmed celery, which adds a delicious herbal taste to the soup, which otherwise has no herbs in it.
1 Large Red Onion
3 Cloves Garlic
Pinch Chilli Flakes
400g Tin Tomatoes
350g (roughly) of Cavolo Nero or Kale or Savoy Cabbage. It is quite hard to get the black cabbage here and although it has a more anise flavour than the Kale or Savoy, they can be used instead (I used Savoy cabbage). Just make sure that it has dark leaves. White cabbage would give a more boggy flavour than you want here.
Couple of Handfuls of Stale Bread, torn into chunks
Salt and Pepper
Drain and rinse your soaked beans. Add to a pan of water with the peeled potato and the tomato, squished. Bring to a rapid boil for 10 minutes, then turn down to a slightly jiggly simmer for another half hour or so, until the beans are tender. Do not salt the beans at all yet. The salt will toughen them. This applies to the cooking of all dried beans. Once cooked, drain, reserving a cup of the cooking water and leave to one side until you are ready to add them to the soup. Discard the potato and tomato. These add flavour to the otherwise flavourless cooking water.
Whilst the beans are cooking chop all the vegetables into small dice, or thereabouts. Gently heat some olive oil in a deep sauté pan (or large saucepan) and sweat off the onion, until translucent. Then add the garlic, cooking for a minute or two and then the rest of the vegetables and chilli flakes, excluding the tinned tomatoes and cabbage.
Leave the vegetables to slowly sauté in the olive oil, amalgamating all their flavours. This is an important step in dish that involves vegetables to be cooked in this manner. It softens them and gives them a united flavour, rather than the odd harsh crunch on a lump of carrot or celery.
Once the vegetables have been sweating down for 10 minutes or so, add the cabbage, stirring into the diced vegetables thoroughly. Cook over a low heat for another 5 minutes or until the cabbage has wilted. Pour over the tinned tomatoes, drained beans, bread and the reserved cooking liquor. Stir gently, and simmer for another half an hour.
Season well with salt and pepper, drizzle with good quality olive oil and serve in deep soup bowls, maybe with some more bread for dipping.