Have you ever enjoyed a new dish while traveling and the memory lingers with you, and you promise yourself “one day I’ll make this dish.” That is how I felt when I first had a dish of ribollita at Bar-Ucci, a cafe in Volpaia, not far from Radda Chianti. The servers spoke no English and our wonderful guide, Azzura made perfect recommendations, outdone only by the ambiance of sitting at an outdoor table in a 12th century town.
The soup was served following an appetizer of crostini with chopped chicken livers warming in a small clay pot over a burner. While you might not want to run to eat chicken livers or re-boiled cabbage, when you could order pizza or pasta, it is a rich experience to enjoy regional cuisine, especially countryside rustic dishes where Italy has demonstrated food passion and distinction like no other country. And the “flavorful experience” was no disappointment. I could envision myself as a little girl waiting for my mom to serve me some soup with a bit of grated cheese.
Pictured here on the left is the very dish I ate, and while the idea of a twice boiled cabbage soup doesn’t sound good, and, truthfully, doesn’t look that good, it tastes fantastic.
Riibollita would be made for dinner and served again re-boiled for breakfast. And, it may even be eaten again on a third day, as this soup just gets better. The true Italian method of cooking is to take what is easily available and make it delicious, and to not waste anything, even if this means re-boiling, and incorporating stale bread.
More typically, in Italy, the soup is made with pancetta, black kale (cavolo nero) and borlotti beans. In true Italian spirit, I used what I had on hand, and I skipped the pancetta, but you could certainly add some or use a ham bone.
Happily, to satisfy my cabbage craving, I was able to recreate this soup with green cabbage, cannellini beans, and my own homemade chicken stock, which was needed to nurse a bad cold.
Who gets cabbage cravings you ask? I think January brings it on, as the body wants good health after all the sweet treats. In some cultures cabbage is important to ring in the new year, and it might be due to the powerful ability of cabbage to detox the body and even without research, I think we intuitively know what good foods we need to eat.
The very idea of twice boiled cabbage sounds unappealing, but I promise you that the soup was at its best on the third day, when I invited Retro Rose (my mother) over for lunch just to see how successful this soup was. R.R. (unlike most Italian mothers) does NOT eat garlic and does not eat left-overs. But she ate my ribollita. Of course, I added a twist to this traditional rustic country meal. I didn’t put some left over stale, crusty bread into the soup; I topped it off with some homemade croutons.
Of course, I felt a bit nostalgic for the memory of Italy, as this soup was so robust in flavor and texture, yet light enough to go for two bowls. Croutons are NOT typical as the Italians take stale bread and add it to ribollita, but I wanted less bread in my soup and the option of topping the soup with the bread is good for those with gluten or carb sensitivity.
There are as many ways to make Ribollita as Americans make chile, with cabbage and beans being the two distinct ingredients. I encourage you to find different ways to make this soup, using your cabbage and beans of choice, and enjoying your first bowl of ribollita as much as I did.
- 1 Cabbage head ,sliced into long strips
- 3 Carrots, chopped finely into small cubes
- 1 onion, chopped finely
- 1 Leek, sliced
- 2 Yellow squash sliced
- 1 Potato, diced
- 1½ cup Cannellini beans, cooked
- 2 Cloves garlic
- 2 Celery stalks chopped finely
- 8 cups Vegetable Broth (recipe below)
- ¼ Olive oil (reserve some for drizzling into bowl)
- Pecorino cheese (or good parmesan)
- Croutons (see instructions)
- Red chile flakes
- Sea salt, black pepper
- 8 cups filtered water
- juice of one lemon
- large chopped pieces, carrots, onion, celery
- garlic clove smashed
- mix of herbs, parsley, thyme or basil (no cilantro)
- sea salt
- black pepper
- ½ loaf Crusty bread
- In a large heavy pot, put in everything except squash which I saved for closer to end. Bring to boil and then simmer until cabbage is cooked.
- Boil veggies until soft, perhaps even melting into water to start with a really fragrant broth. On the second day, I used a hand blender to blend it, while leaving it slightly chunky.
- This particular bread is from the master recipe from Artisan Bread in FIve Minutes. You can use any crusty bread. Just coarsely chop bread and include crust.
- Spray with water, and bake at 450 on baking stone until done, about 7-10 minutes. Rub with garlic glove as soon as you take out of oven.