I think many of us have been in this position. There’s a loaf of homemade bread on the counter that’s past its best, but it’s begging (metaphorically) not to be thrown out. It’s drier than a fortnight in the desert, but it’s not actively mouldy, and besides, you put your heart and soul into that bread. Or, at least, someone did. The bin is no fit place for it. The freezer is pointless, since it’ll be just as dry when it comes out again – if, indeed, you ever take it out again. If you try to make a sandwich with it you’ll probably choke yourself, and even dipping it in soup is fast becoming a non-option.
What if, instead of dipping it in the soup, you actually made it part of the soup?
The thing about ribollita is that, in essence, it’s minestrone that’s been kicking about for a couple of days, and someone’s thrown in some scraps of bread and created a ‘new’ meal out of it. As well as that stale loaf, it’s full of veg, beans, tomatoes and garlic. I took a trawl through a few different recipes before I made my own – my favourites were the Hardly Housewives version, and the Allegra McEvedy version on the Guardian. I was also heavily influenced by the amazing minestrone recipe from Food 52, that I make frequently (though not with actual reference to the written ingredients, I prefer to freestyle from memory with that one).
Accordingly, I came up with my own version of ribollita, and here’s an idea of what went in to my most giant pot (the one that feels gloriously like a witch’s cauldron):
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 slices smoked bacon
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 large, narrow leek
- 3 carrots
- 3 stalks celery
- 2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
- 2 400g tins chickpeas
- 1.2(ish) litres chicken stock
- small wedge of parmesan rind
- 1 courgette, cut into wedges
- 200g chopped kale
- 2/3 of languishing ciabatta loaf, cubed
- few stems of broccolini found in the fridge, sliced into small segments
- salt, pepper, garlic, fennel and chili seasoning (it all comes in one magical spice grinder)
- pesto and balsamic vinegar, for serving
I put the cauldron on over a low heat, and poured in the oil to start heating. I cut the bacon into strips, and threw them into the oil with the crushed garlic. Then I sliced up the leek, carrots and celery in the food processor. Thinly slicing or dicing by hand was a perfectly good option, but some days you want to take advantage of the speed of that whizzing blade.
The sliced veg went in with the bacon and garlic – this is kind of a rough soffritto, a load of flavours that will melt together and make the basis of the soup. I let them do their thing for fifteen minutes or so, stirring occasionally. I had a small stack of dishes to do, so I rattled through those while the veg and bacon were getting to know each other.
Once the leeks and celery were suitably softened – though not coloured, not at this low heat – I added the tomatoes and chicken stock. I also added one tin of the chickpeas, drained, but the second tin was to be subject to modification first. I roughly drained them, but kept some of the liquid in the tin. Then the whole lot was poured into the food processor and blended into a thick, chunky paste. This paste adds body to the soup – at the end of the day, the bread does that job spectacularly, so the chickpeas could all have stayed whole. These little learning curves are all part of recipe development.
I brought the soup up to a boil, and then reduced again to a low heat to simmer. The parmesan rind also went in at this time. I still haven’t found the parmesan rind. Did it all melt through the soup? Will I get a pungent surprise in my next bowl? Who can say. It adds a certain savoury something to the mix – though if your chicken stock is very salty, you may want to skip it. My chicken stock was homemade, did I mention? No? I always feel like a grown up when I have homemade chicken stock to hand.
I had some further housework to attend to, and let the soup simmer for about twenty minutes. I can hoover my whole flat in this amount of time. You might think this means that the floors are never dusty. You would be wrong about that.
After this time, the courgette, broccolini, bread and kale went into the pot. At first it looked like it would never all mix together, with the bread and kale both putting up a brave initial struggle, but with a little determined stirring it all settled in.
It simmered for a further twenty minutes, or thereabouts. I used some of the time to wash the new dishes that had already accumulated (it’s relentless). Once the broccolini was al dente, the soup was good to go – I seasoned it, then added a splash of boiling water to thin it out, but that was purely personal preference.
In spite of all instruction to the contrary, I left the crust on the bread (my loaf was at least 30% crust, I wasn’t wasting all that), which meant that some chunks held together even after much stirring, tasting, seasoning and re-stirring. Most of it had become an integral part of the soup, though, and I liked it that way. Some recipes I looked at called for adding the bread nearer the end, or even making a layer of bread over the top of the soup and toasting it in the oven. There are places to go with ribollita, you know? Seemingly endless variations exist, by region as well as by personal preference. This one, though? This one was pretty good.
There’s a dollop of pesto on this bowl (fun fact: it’s a pistachio pesto I’m working on), and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. You could also add grated parmesan or a lug or two of olive oil. I wasn’t kidding about those endless variations.