Ribeooohllittah, ribeooohllittah! I hum as I energetically dice my soffritto (a marriage of vegetables creating a base, most often, red onion, carrot and celery). The first time I had ribollita soup was probably at a high school football game. Odd I know, but our winter sports games had soups available at the concession. At the time, there was an Italian theme going, and soup was always available. I’ve cycled through them all, ultimately deciding the Italian wedding would be my go to order. Yes, at a football game. Anyway, the ribollita, well, wasn’t very memorable. Except in the sense I decided I didn’t very much like the soup. Being sort of a lip staining tomato water mixed with pre-cooked vegetables and tufts of bread. And so, that was the last time I’ve ordered ribollita.
Until it was bestowed upon me. I was working at a flour mill, when the chef, mostly nose deep in his own creations, handed me a small bowl of soup. Claiming it to be “Ribbeeohllittah”! And it was magic. The single best spoonful of soup I’ve ever had. I stopped what I was doing and gobbled up my five spoonfuls more. I asked him to show me how to make it, and ever since it’s been the soup I continuously crave and fix at any flicker of a crisp wind.
It wasn’t until recently, at a lovely cookery bookstore, that I came across two interesting books. The food being from a foreign land, but the ratios of ingredients and method of cooking, seemed strangely familiar. I bought both books in haste. Now another cuisine I was fascinated by! With some reading later on, I learned that the authors, Sam & Sam Clark, began their chef training at the helm of The River Cafe in London. (A fiercely influential seasonal restaurant, open now for 30 years now, that draws inspiration from regional Italian cuisine.) The familiarity of the two books I stumbled upon contained honest, humble, and fulfilling recipes from a land that I didn’t have much knowledge about before, (and still have much to learn, but a sense of incentive now) but after flipping through, I not only felt a little bit closer to the true cuinse of the Moorish villages in Spain, North Africa and Morocco, but also little deeper understanding of the people too. This style of cooking, showcased in fine dining restaurants swept the world, thanks to people like Ruthie Rogers and Rose Gray, Alice Waters and Paul Bertolli.
Sam and Sam Clark shared their recipe for summer ribollita. And it was right then, as quickly as I sent my eyes left to right making sense of their recipe, that I internally revolutionized that a cook has the power to make a cuisine of their own, a storyline, from all they have met and then applies.
I can’t deny a thick soup, full of warm vegetables, beans and bread to fill me up when the air gets crisp, or maybe in San Francisco, where even the summer nights might ask for a sweater. So here are two recipes for ribollita, the one I learned at the flour mill. And Sam and Sam Clarks of Casa Moro in London.
- soffritto (very, very finely diced and equal parts, 1 1/2 red onion, 4 medium carrots and 4 celery stalks, perhaps 3 cups per vegetable)
- extra virgin olive oil
- 28oz canned peeled tomatoes, preferably the san marzano variety
- garlic clove
- white wine, a forgotten, opened bottle from the back of your fridge
- a small bunch of lacinato kale, also known as tuscan kale, stemmed and shredded roughly
- 16 oz canned borlotti beans
- black pepper
- 28 oz canned cannellini beans
- block of parmesan with rind on, nutty and buttery in flavor.
- a few days old loaf of sourdough bread, preferably one made from a cold fermentation process, more flavor!
- a glug and a drizzle from your nice bottle of extra virgin olive oil
Soffritto! Finely dice red onion, carrots and celery, as small as you can go, involve yourself! This is an important step because it will lead to a, I mean it, luxurious mouthfeel. Scoop up your vegetables, and place in a wide and heavy pot. Drench with nice, but not too nice, extra virgin olive oil, about two cups worth. Followed by and a four fingered pinch of salt. Let cook at a medium low temperature, uncovered, slowly the water contained in the vegetable will steam out and and be replaced by luscious olive oil. Stir regularly. If the pot becomes suspiciously dry, and you start to hear sizzling, dig out that opened, almost forgotten, bottle of white wine hiding in the fridge. Using just a few drops and a few scapes at a time to deglaze and lift the sucs forming below your mountain of vegetables. Continue this process until the vegetables are plump with olive oil, and completely tender. About 30 minutes.
Add a garlic clove that has been crushed with the side of your knife, and the tin of tomatoes, using a whisk, sort of crush the tomatoes right in the pot. When the tomatoes smell roasted, add a good pour of that wine wine, about 1 cup, followed by handfuls of stemmed and torn lacinato kale. Sir together for a minute or three and then fill up your tomato tin with water and pour into the pot. Let simmer and bubble for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile make a borlotti bean puree, by placing entire can, bean cooking liquid and all, into a blender along with lots of black pepper and a hefty pinch of salt. While blending, stream in olive oil, about ½ a cup. Pour this into the simmering pot along with the whole cannellini beans, spooning in some of the cannellini beans cooking liquid too. Depending on how much liquid you want to add. Ribollita is about intuition! Chuck in your parmesan rind. This gives off a nutty undertone note to your soup,(and to be honest I kind of love gnawing at it if I do find it bendy and melting in my soup bowl). Begin tearing bread, using mostly crumb, some crust too, adding to the pot by the handful. Stir and squish the bread with the back of your wooden spoon against the pot. The goal is to attempt to liquefy the bread, Cook along, stir along, press the bread against the rim along. When all is married and soft, lacinato kale, so tender giving no resistance back when you chew, the bread – liquified, and the soup thick. Don’t hesitate to add a cup of water or bean cooking liquid, more or less if you think, “too thick”! About 30 minutes.
Finish with a light glug of your nicer bottle of olive oil, cranks of more than you might expect of black pepper and a blanket of shredded parmesan. Stir and voila! Ladle into shallow bowls, with a dusting more of olive oil, black pepper and parmesan.