Leftover Bread Series Part III: Ribollita

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Post by Anna

Leftovers, like everything else good and practical, are becoming hip.

Previously untouched pieces of animal fat and organs — sometimes called ‘variety meats’ — are sold at butcher shops and found on menus in the form of schmaltz and homemade sausage. Orange rinds are saved in restaurants to infuse with butter, or to make marmalade. In October, the New York Times Magazine cheered “In Cooking, Good Ingredients Gone ‘Bad’ Can Still Be Delicious,” alongside glossy photos of Julia Child’s chilaquiles, featuring stale tortillas.

Not that Molly, me, or the New York Times made this stuff up — quite the opposite. Generations of cooks have passed on the wisdom, resourcefulness, and creativity they’ve used to feed their families for centuries. But unlike ‘normcore’, this is a trend we might actually benefit from.

No recipe does this like ribollita.photo albumborder 025

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Literally meaning “twice boiled,” the traditional Tuscan winter soup got its start as leftover minestrone, reheated the next day with its flavors seeped into chunks of stale bread. Apparently sources date it back to the Middle Ages, where servants gathered their lord’s leftovers, served them on plates made of bread, and ate it for dinner. Brilliant.

In her book, An Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler sings praises of this soup, imploring that, like it’s predecessor, minestrone, it’s not a dish you go to the store for. Rather, when you open your pantry and see a can of tomatoes and some kind of bean, discover a parmesan rind in the back of the cheese drawer, and pull down a hunk of stale baguette from the top of the fridge —then, and only then, is it time for ribollita.

I turn to ribollita often, as an easy answer to cold hands and feet, and hunger.

Though the soup alone is worth returning to, cooks have been known to keep this dish on the pot for days, until the liquid is absorbed into thick, soup-soaked pillows of bread, to be fried in a pan with oil and eaten like pancakes.

Prep: 25 minutes / Cook: 30 minutes / Serves: 6 / Adapted from An Everlasting Meal

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 1 medium onion
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. chile flakes
  • 2 sprigs thyme, rosemary
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 can crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 1 bunch dark greens (cavolo nero if we’re being traditional), stemmed and chopped
  • 2 cups cooked white bean (cannellini, great northern, cranberry, or chickpea all work great)
  • 2 cups liquid. Try bean broth, liquid from tomatoes, vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 hunk of parmesan rind
  • 1 1/2 cups stale bread, cubed into 1 x 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, for topping
  • Salt and pepper

WHAT YOU DO:

  • Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large pot, and cook celery, garlic, onion. Add salt and chile flakes, cook until softened.
  • Add tomatoes and chopped herbs.
  • Add chopped greens and a little bit of water. Cover and cook until greens are wilted.
  • Add beans, broth, and rind, bring to a simmer.
  • Add bread, and remaining olive oil. Yes, it’s a lot of oil.
  • Simmer on low for 30 minutes, careful to check and add water if soup seems too thick. When it’s done, the bread will be velvety smooth and melted into the soup.
  • Top with another hearty glug of oil, fresh parmesan, chopped parsley, and black pepper.

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