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What is a Ribollita?

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  • Written By: Nick Doniger
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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Ribollita is an Italian soup consisting of vegetables, such as kale and cannellini beans, and hard or stale bread. Historically, it was prepared by Tuscan peasants during winter months. Though modern recipes may vary from the traditional counterparts, the soup is always cooked to a thick, stew-like consistency.

Its name, translating in Italian to "re-boiled," refers to the fact that traditionally, more vegetables and broth would be added and boiled into the soup as its supply ran low. Such a practice allowed the lifespan of the soup to be stretched beyond a day or two, but it also allowed the soup to vary slightly day to day. Other explanations for its name, however, claim that the soup is actually made with leftover minestrone, which has bread added to it and is recooked days later.

Traditionally, ribollita was a Tuscan peasant soup made during the winter, often slowly cooked on a wood stove. It contained several different types of vegetables that may vary depending on household recipes. Common vegetables among most recipes include black leaf kale, or cavolo nero, cannellini beans, onions, garlic, carrots, and tomatoes. The soup was also traditionally made with stale bread, though modern recipes may call for sliced ciabatta, an Italian bread with a hard crust. Adding bread allows the soup to thicken and become stew-like.

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Some describe ribollita as being a byproduct of minestrone, another type of Italian vegetable soup usually made with small pasta such as ditallini. After a minestrone soup is cooked and most of it is consumed, thinly sliced bread is added the next day. Once the soup soaks into the bread and the bread thickens the soup, the product is reboiled and served. Others, however, insist that minestrone and ribollita are two very separate soups.

Modern recipes for ribollita generally begin with onions, carrots, and garlic being sauteed in a pan with plenty of extra virgin olive oil. Variations on the recipe may include adding bacon at this stage, or pancetta, which is a type of Italian unsmoked bacon. Tomatoes or tomato paste is then added in order to deglaze the browned bits in the pot, followed by beans, herbs, and broth or stock. Sometimes, the rind of a hard cheese, such as parmigianno regianno, is added as well and removed after cooking.

After boiling and simmering for 30 to 60 minutes, the soup is then seasoned with salt and pepper. The soup may then be ladled into a bowl over crisped bread. This modern method of preparing ribollita offers a distinct variation to traditional recipes where the soup is cooked with the bread already incorporated.

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