photosoupDuring these last cold, damp days of winter, I like to make a bubbling pot of homemade soup over the weekend. One of my favorites, is the Italian soup ribollita. This is the easy-to-prepare Tuscan vegetable soup finished with bread cubes and grated cheese. Perfect for chasing the chill.

While in Italy last February, I think I savored  a steaming bowl of ribollita either at lunch or dinner every day. That was my introduction and it’s been part of our menus ever since. Make a pot and discover why.

I’m guessing this soup came about when a frugal Italian cook decided to use up day-old bread and the rinds from cheese. Everything went into the pot to stretch the meal and feed more hungry mouths.

This is Ina Garten’s recipe (FoodNetwork.Com). I’ve made some notes at the end of my own additions or twists. This is the kind of soup that allows for substitutions and changes. Nothing fancy. Just delish. Buon appetito!

1/2 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini
Kosher salt
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for serving
1/4 pound large diced pancetta or smoked bacon
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
1 cup chopped carrots (3 carrots)
1 cup chopped celery (3 stalks)
3 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
4 cups coarsely chopped or shredded savoy cabbage, optional
4 cups coarsely chopped kale
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
4 cups sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
In a large bowl, cover the beans with cold water by 1-inch and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to soak overnight in the refrigerator.Drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 8 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the beans are tender. Set the beans aside to cool in their liquid.Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large stockpot. Add the pancetta and onions and cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, 1 tablespoon of salt, the pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes with their puree, the cabbage, if using, the kale, and basil and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for another 7 to 10 minutes.Drain the beans, reserving their cooking liquid. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree half of the beans with a little of their liquid. Add to the stockpot, along with the remaining whole beans. Pour the bean cooking liquid into a large measuring cup and add enough chicken stock to make 8 cups. Add to the soup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.Add the bread to the soup and simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve hot in large bowls sprinkled with Parmesan and drizzled with olive oil.

**Chris’s Notes

1. OK, I skip those dried beans and go for the canned cannellini. So much faster.

2. Hard to believe, but I skip the pancetta or bacon. Mine is a pure vegetable soup. No meat.

3. I add brocollini to the veg list.

4. I also add the breadcrumbs/cubes (I’m not that precise. Again, this is a forgiving soup) and the cheese to the pot with about 30-45 minutes to go. I like everything blended in the soup. Then, sprinkle more cheese on top for serving.

5. I’ve also been known to pour in about 1/4 C of white wine for additional liquid. Then, let the alcohol boil off.