Ribollita (Tuscan Vegetable and Bean Soup)

published Apr 3, 2022
Ribollita (Tuscan Vegetable and Bean Soup) Recipe

For a hearty soup recipe, look no further than ribollita.

Serves6 to 8

Makes8 cups

Prep30 minutes

Cook45 minutes

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Credit: Lauren Bamford

One of the first dishes I fell in love with when I moved to Florence was ribollita. The ultimate winter soup, ribollita is a hearty, creamy soup made of cleverly repurposed stale Tuscan bread, winter greens, and beans. It makes a frugal but nourishing and comforting dish. 

A key ingredient for this recipe is cavolo nero, or Tuscan kale. At a certain point in winter, cavolo nero seems to be the only thing that you can find in the markets in Tuscany and it is used in soups, as a topping for crostini, or as a side dish. I consider it essential in this soup: The flavor it gives will send you straight to Florence. Also key is the stale bread, which is what lends the soup its characteristic thickness. Without it, this would just be minestrone. If you’re planning ahead, buy the bread fresh and wait a few days for it to go stale.

The first time I made ribollita at home, I turned to a recipe in Pellegrino Artusi’s cookbook from 1891, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. Written only a couple decades after Italy was united, it is widely considered the first Italian cookbook. Interestingly, he doesn’t call this recipe by its Tuscan name, ribollita, which means “reboiled,” but chooses to call it “Zuppa Toscana di Magro alla Contadina,” a mouthful that means Farmer’s Style Lean Tuscan Soup. His ribollita is still the best way to make it, and although each household may have a slight variation on this (this is mine), it tastes exactly like you’re in a Florentine trattoria. My in-laws like to serve this soup with a quarter of a fresh red onion to take bites into with mouthfuls of soup. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it is the true Tuscan way to serve this soup. 

How to Make Ribollita

The first thing to do is to purée a portion of the cannellini beans — this is what makes it nice and creamy. Then cook the garlic, onion, celery, parsley, and pancetta in olive oil to sweat the vegetables. Add tomato paste, and after a minute or so, the greens, potato, beans (both puréed and whole), and water and let this simmer gently until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Then we arrive at the part that makes this ribollita: Off the heat, add the stale bread, chopped into pieces, and leave it to sit and soak up for ideally an hour. Before serving, stir the pot to break up the bread — it should be quite thick, like oatmeal — and reheat gently to serve.

If You’re Making Ribollita, a Few Tips

  1. Use the right bread. In Tuscany, the bread is unsalted and has a pale, very crunchy crust and a springy texture. When it is stale it can be revived like a sponge by putting it in water. If you’re not in Tuscany, it’ll be hard to find this bread so choose a good, white, country style loaf with a hard crust and let it go stale: slicing it beforehand makes things easier. A good test if the texture is correct or not is to break off a piece of bread and run it under the tap to wet it. Feel it with your fingers; it should be springy (if it turns to mush quickly it’s no good for this recipe).
  2. Purée the beans for ultimate creaminess. Cannellini beans are a key element in this dish, as is the creamy, comforting consistency of the soup. You want to blend the beans to obtain a perfectly smooth purée — but do keep a portion of them whole, as it is really nice to see and taste those whole beans in the soup too, which lend another texture
  3. Let it rest. This is a recipe that benefits from being made in advance. Once you place the bread in the soup, just cover it and forget about it for about an hour (or even overnight). If you’re in a hurry, 20 minutes should do it but giving it a full hour allows the bread to fully soak and you can judge better the consistency that you prefer — you may like to add a splash of water if it is too thick, for example. Before serving, just heat it up again gently if needed and give it a good stir to break up the bread.

Ribollita (Tuscan Vegetable and Bean Soup) Recipe

For a hearty soup recipe, look no further than ribollita.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 45 minutes

Makes 8 cups

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups

    cooked cannellini beans (8 to 9 ounces)

  • 1/2 cup

    water or bean canning liquid

  • 1

    small yellow onion

  • 1 clove

    garlic

  • 1/2 stalk

    celery

  • 6 sprigs

    fresh parsley

  • 3

    thin slices pancetta (about 1 ounce)

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon

    tomato paste

  • 5 ounces

    savoy cabbage (about 1/5 small cabbage)

  • 5 ounces

    flat-leaf kale (about 1/2 bunch)

  • 5 ounces

    Swiss chard, any color (about 1/2 bunch)

  • 1

    medium Yukon Gold or red potato (about 8 ounces)

  • 4 cups

    water, plus more as needed

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 to 5 ounces

    crustless stale bread, preferably a crusty white country-style loaf with the crusts trimmed off

Instructions

  1. Place half of the beans (heaping 1/2 cup) and 1/2 cup water or bean canning liquid in a mini food processor or blender. Process until smooth.

  2. Prepare the following, adding each to a large stockpot as you complete it: Finely chop 1 small yellow onion, 1 garlic clove, and 1/2 stalk celery. Pick the leaves from 6 fresh parsley sprigs (1/3 cup) and finely chop. Thinly slice 3 pancetta slices.

  3. Core and chop 5 ounces savoy cabbage into rough 1-inch pieces. Remove any tough stems from 5 ounces flat-leaf kale and 5 ounces Swiss chard. Cut the leaves in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Peel and dice 1 medium Yukon Gold or red potato.

  4. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pot and gently sweat the vegetables over low heat until the onion is transparent but now browned, about 10 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the greens, potato, and 4 cups water, and stir to combine. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, then add both the puréed and whole beans. Bring to a simmer.

  5. Simmer uncovered until the vegetables are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Test for tenderness with the poke of a fork. Meanwhile, trim the crusts from 4 to 5 ounces stale bread, then coarsely chop (about 2 cups).

  6. Remove the pot from heat. Add the bread in an even layer but do not stir it in. Cover and let it rest for at least 20 minutes, but preferably 1 hour. Before serving, stir to break up the soaked bread. It should be thick like oatmeal but you can add some extra water if it is too thick. Reheat gently and serve.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

This recipe is from Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies (Hardie Grant Books). Image by Lauren Bamford.