Saturday, February 27, 2010

"i've got a pocket full of pretty green"

the food: Soup of the Week! Ribollita
the song: "Pretty Green" Mark Ronson & Santigold

A few weeks ago, Heidi from 101cookbooks posted a recipe for something I'd never heard of...a Tuscan stew called ribollita. The way I like to cook- or at least the way I do cook-is to never trust just one recipe (even coming from Heidi). I suppose that's a result of the internets; you can research all kinds of things from the comfort of your couch. So the first thing I did was google ribollita. The jist of this stew is hearty greens and white beans plus some type of bread. It is peasant food, filling and warm, cheap and simple.  Interestingly (to me at least), the word ribollita translates to mean "reboiled." So essentially, this is just a vegetable based soup that has had time to marinate served over day-old bread. Seems easy enough.

From the five or so recipes I consulted for ribollita, the green used varied from cabbage to kale to spinach. In the comments, people seemed to turn their nose up at spinach...kale was the more traditional green for the stew. It seemed that the real issue, though, was finding a green that would hold up to the half-hour of cooking.

Allow me a quick spinach tangent. Sadly, most people's "spinach" is the baby variety that comes in a bag. In that case, please buy a bunch of kale if you plan on making ribollita. Baby spinach would disintegrate in this stew. If you are going to use spinach, get the good big leaves and chop them up yourself. It's really not that much work...I'll show you in a second. For a limited time at Central Market, you get my favorite spinach EVER- this triple washed full grown real spinach from Oak Hill Farms in Poteet, Texas. When it's available, we go through a bag a week in our house- I saute that stuff, eat it in salads, whatever. I guarantee, you'll be a spinach convert after you eat the real thing.

Ok, thanks. As I was saying, ribollita calls for a green that can hold it's own. Just say the name to yourself (here's help with pronunciation). This is strong, sexy, rustic food. So give it the respect of some real greens. I decided to do a combination of greens found in my garden and supplement spinach as needed.

You know that campaign to eat your colors? It is posted all over my school right now. In my garden, I found purple cabbage, green collards, and dark red swiss chard. So spinach would not be needed for this soup after all. I'm not sure exactly how to measure these greens, but that brown bowl is a salad bowl, and you can see it's filled to the brim. Keep that in mind when you're gathering your ingredients.

I got them in, filled up my sink and gave the greens a little bath. I always try to avoid garden creatures that may have come inside with the past, I've fished a spider, a lady bug, and a little green winged guy out of my sink during this step. If you're using your own or getting your greens from the Farmer's Market, you might have to play lifeguard, too. Swish the greens around in the water, rinse them once more, then put them on a clean dish towel to dry. My cats LOVE greens, so I cover them with another towel as to not tempt the kitties.

I let them sit there on the counter until I was ready to chop. No need to refrigerate something that just came out of the ground. Chopping greens is not that hard. The taste more than makes up for the time it takes to chop versus opening a bag. When you're ready to chop, lay each green on your chopping board and remove any bad spots (again, more of an issue if you're using home growns or Farmer's market variety.) Then, fold the leaf over the stem and remove the largest, toughest parts of the stem. Once your leaf is ready, lay it flat to the side of your chopping board. As you repeat the process with the other leaves, stack them up flat to the side. Once you have a good stack, roll them up like a cigar, like so.

At that point, slice down the cigar at your desired size. I'm not so good with measurements but I usually do it about the width of my index finger. The key is not too small and not too big for your tastes, so really just cut them whatever width you want. Repeat the process until all your greens are chopped.

Now, onto the soup. It is very simple, and comes out tasting earthy and rich. Do not skip the parmesan rind. I didn't have any rind, so I substituted 1 small cube of hard salty cheese (I think romano). You could also just throw in some shredded parmesan, but do it when the recipe recommends and let it melt into the soup. It is oh-so-good. And I almost forgot the "reboiled" part. We were pretty hungry when I made this, especially when the smells of this soup started filling our kitchen, so I did not let the soup completely cool then reheat it in true ribollita fashion. What I did do what let the soup rest for about 20 minutes before we ate it. We just ate our salad first. I'm not sure if that had the same effect, but it did taste good. I'll let you know if it is wildly better served as leftovers.

When I first tasted the soup, without the bread at the bottom or cheese and oil on top, my reaction was "it tastes just like every other soup I make." So don't skip the bread and toppings! It makes this soup something special. If you have truffle oil, I can't recommend it enough. It really brings out that earthy taste I was talking about. If no truffle oil, olive oil would work great, too. Oh, and while you're eating it is probably best to not say the name of the soup (with varying degrees of rolled r's and a bad Italian accent) more than once or twice. About half-way through the bowl, my overzealous pronunciation prompted the husband to suggest "let's just call it soup."


olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
salt & pepper to taste
splash red or white wine
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes (I used fire roasted, my favorite for soups)
1 (15 ounce) can canellini beans (Any bean will work- garbanzo or kidney would both be good)
1 large bunch hearty greens-swiss chard, kale, cabbage, collard greens, big spinach, or a combination
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
3 cups vegetable broth+3 cups water (use whatever combo you see fit- the goal is about 6 cups liquid)
1 bay leaf
1 3 inch parmesan rind OR 1 inch cube parmesan
1/2 not-fresh ciabatta loaf, torn into bite sized pieces
grated parmesan, for serving
more olive oil OR truffle oil for serving

Heat a good splash of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, pepper, and salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer for a few minutes more. Add tomatoes and minced garlic and stir. Add the greens, beans, herbs, stock, bay leaf, and parmesan rind. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, toss your bread bites in a little olive oil. Toast in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until toasts are golden brown.
If you want to let your soup rest, now is the time. I'm not sure it is completely necessary. When you're ready to serve, fish out the bay leaf and parmesan rind. Then place a few of the toasts in the bottom of serving bowl and ladle the soup over the toasts. Sprinkle with parmesan, drizzle with oil, and eat!


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