By Candace Karu
I write this as I am self-isolating in my home on the West End of Portland. Living through these unprecedented times has caused me to change my perspective on things I thought were immutable. One of the few things I know for sure is that life after Covid-19 will look profoundly different than our pre-pandemic lives.
During this enforced pause, I find that food has become a source of comfort and familiarity. Though I have fewer resources – a trip to the grocery store or ordering food online has become its own source of adventure – I have paid much closer attention to ingredients, especially those I have on hand. Pantry and refrigerator staples have figured heavily into menu planning now that a quick trip to the market is no longer an option.
Ribollita, which in Italian means “re-boiled,” is a Tuscan staple, created as a way to use leftover minestrone soup and stale bread. I’ve always treated ribollita as a quick way to use vegetables on hand, especially those a little past their prime in a delicious seasonal soup. I used a half a bag of shredded carrots in this version. They’d been hanging around for a while and were just begging to be tossed in. It also features white beans. I always have a variety of canned beans in my pantry. They’ve become the lead protein in some of my favorite dishes. Like many of you, I’m eating more plant-based meals and this one is at the top of my list.
The recipe below is more a jumping off point than hard and fast instructions. You can use any broth whether homemade or boxed, chicken or vegetable. If none of those are available, use water and toss in a bouillon cube. Use seasonal vegetables to leverage what’s fresh at the store or what’s coming from your garden or your CSA – green beans, potatoes, zucchini, escarole, chard, fresh tomatoes instead of canned, squash – it’s all fair game.
This is a meal that is even better the next day. When I have time, I make it one day and serve it the next. Buon appetito!
• 5 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for bread and serving
• 1 small red onion, chopped
• 1 carrot, chopped
• 1 celery stalk, chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, minced, plus one clove for bread
• 2 cans of white beans (Navy or cannellini),
drained and rinsed
• 1-15 ounce can diced tomatoes
• 5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
• ½ small cabbage, cut in 1” ribbons
• 1 pound kale, about 1 bunch, spines removed, chopped
• ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
• 1 sprig fresh rosemary
• 1 sprig fresh thyme
• 4 slices day-old thick-sliced rustic bread
(or any bread you have on hand)
Preheat oven to 400˚.
Heat olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, celery and sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes longer. Next, add kale and cabbage and cook until they have softened, still stirring frequently, about 8 minutes. Add red pepper flakes.
Next add tomatoes, stock, beans, rosemary and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until vegetables and beans are tender. Remove and discard rosemary and thyme stems.
While ribollita is simmering, brush bread with olive oil and arrange slices, oil side up, on a baking sheet. Cook on the top rack of the oven until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Remove and cut a large garlic clove in half. Rub the toasted bread with the cut side of the garlic clove and set aside.
To serve, place a slice of toasted bread in each bowl and ladle very hot soup over the bread. Add a dollop of gremolata and a drizzle of olive oil.
Gremolata is a quick and delicious condiment that adds depth, brightness, and flavor to many dishes. It’s a lovely topping for grilled fish, chicken or meat and adds zest to soups like ribollita. It’s best to make gremolata the old-fashioned way, hand chopping the parsley and mincing the garlic. A food processor will cause the parsley to clump and get unpleasantly damp and will cause the garlic to release sulfur-based compounds that make it taste bitter and overpowering.
• Zest from 1 medium lemon
• ¼ flat leaf Italian parsley,
• 2 medium garlic cloves,
peeled and finely minced
• Kosher salt to taste
Combine lemon zest, minced garlic and parsley in a small bowl. Gremolata will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 or 4 days in an airtight container.