When the weather turns cold, there's nothing like a warm tomato soup with chunks of crusty bread mixed in. This version is fast to put together using frozen spinach, cannellini beans, and whatever else you have on hand.
I've always heard rustic soups like bouillabaisse described as being made of leftovers. This romantic and spontaneous idea of making a meal out of whatever is left in the fridge has been, until recently, lost on me. I'm a recipe girl. The closest I come to estimating a measurement might be using a regular spoon instead of a tablespoon. For recipes with approximate measurements I've found myself wondering, exactly how big is a handful and what constitutes a pinch? Yes, I own a digital scale and use it religiously.
However, this fall, I'm inspired to change. If I can avoid an extra trip to the grocery store and bypass dirtying a measuring cup, I'm for it. And what better to mark the start of my spontaneous journey than ribollita, the ultimate leftovers soup? Literally translated as reboiled, ribollita is a Tuscan soup that can be made with whatever vegetables you have on hand. To keep it tasting like a ribollita, it's best if you start with a base of onions, carrots, and celery and include some form of tomatoes (sauce, pureé, crushed, etc.) and bread.
I used frozen spinach because it's what I had in the freezer, but kale and Swiss chard would work as well. I had used tomato pureé earlier in the week and had just enough to add to this soup. Tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, and pretty much any other form of tomato would do. If you don't have stale bread, put a few slices of fresh bread in a warm oven and let them dry out without toasting. Add as much bread to create the thickness you like; I like to make it with enough bread so I can taste it in every bite.
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large celery ribs, chopped
1 dried bay leaf 1 10-ounce bag frozen spinach 2 15.5-ounce cans cannellini beans, with their liquid
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 15-ounce can (1 3/4 cups) tomato pureé
9 ounces day-old bread, torn in pieces (about 3 cups)
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
Parmesan, grated (optional)
Warm the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, onion, carrots, celery, and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the frozen spinach and sauté for a moment to break up any large clumps.
Add beans, stock, and tomato pureé. Bring soup to a boil. Stir in bread and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until soup thickens slightly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil. Remove bay leaf and serve topped with grated Parmesan.
This recipe has been updated — first published November 2010.