This cosy and comforting ribollita (Tuscan bread soup/minestra di pane Toscana) is a hearty pottage, full of seasonal vegetables, bulked out with bread. It’s easy to make, incredibly frugal, and perfect for filling you up on a cold autumn or winter’s day!
Like most cucina povera, this ribollita is made with what’s to hand – or what the garden yields – although, naturally, this being a traditional northern Italian country dish that every mamma has her own recipe for, there are still guidelines! Ribollita must contain cannellini beans, and it must have cavolo nero (black cabbage). And bread, of course. 😉
If you can’t get cavolo nero – and believe me, the only places I’ve ever been able to find it outside Northern Italy are Serbia, Slovenia, and Britain – you can use kale. After all, if this were a dish from Campania, it would be made with friarielli (aka rapini), so if you have to replace the cavolo nero, don’t feel bad about it – your pottage will still be fab!
By the way, if you’re making this ribollita with produce from your garden or allotment, the cabbage/kale will be best after a frost. The frost breaks down the brassica fibres, making the leaves more tender, and therefore ideal to be put into a soup or pottage.
Ribollita is traditionally reheated over several days: ribolla means to re-boil, and refers to the practise of making a large potful (often on a Friday), and eating it all weekend.
This Tuscan bread soup (although… it’s not really very soupy!) is said to have originated in medieval times, when the peasants would add trenchers, left over from wealthier folks’ meals, to their pots of vegetable stew.
(I thought double-dipping was bad enough.)
Another school of thought is that ribollita was originally conceived as a way to stretch out leftover minestrone. However, given that minestrone was originally a thin broth of leftovers, eaten by servants (originally called minestrare – food served to servants – see my minestra di pasta e fagioli recipe for more info), it seems unlikely that there’d be much in way of leftover leftovers. If you see what I mean.
How true either of these stories are, I know not but I do know that adding pieces of stale bread to chunky soup is a great way of eking out a meal, and making it more nutritious. It’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. As did my grandparents. I bet you do too!
And when my son was small, it wasn’t unknown for me to keep a ribollita going for a week at a time – adding to it every couple of days. I didn’t add bread to the pot though – that was put in the bottom of the bowl, and the ribollita poured on top.
To this day, ribollita is still something that’s found on my stove top on a regular basis during autumn and winter. Sometimes into spring too, if the weather is cold enough, or if either of us is feeling a bit off-colour.
As with my caponata and sarmale, ribollita is even better the next day, so don’t be put off by the amount of time it takes to prep and cook. Most of it is hands-off time, and the pottage will reward you for several days. By the way, some people advocate toasting the bread (yeah, they say that about panzanella too, and they’re no more right about that either), and then placing alternating layers of toast and ribollita into a casserole dish, and baking for an hour…
Listen matey peeps, it’s called ribollita, not minestra di pane al forno!
Think about it… in the bad old days, most paesani did not have ovens – they took their bread to be baked in the village oven – why would they make a pottage that had to first be cooked in a pot (duh!), then toast some bread, then decant the whole lot into another container, AND THEN take it all the way to the baker to be cooked again? That makes no sense at all, and it sounds like a non-Italian, post-modern 1970s thing to me. 😉
Cosy and Comforting Ribollita (Tuscan Bread Soup)
- nutritious (Vitamin A 86%, Vitamin C 85%, Calcium 10%, Iron 19% RDV)
- high in fibre and protein
- deliciously warming
If you want do the whole faux-rustic thing, you could serve your ribollita inside hollowed out loaves of bread. How very ’70s! 😉
Have you ever had ribollita? What’s your favourite Italian soup?
Cosy and Comforting Ribollita (Tuscan Bread Soup)
Yield 8 servings
Ribollita is a hearty vegan pottage, full of seasonal vegetables, and bulked out with bread. Easy to make and incredibly frugal, it's a perfect winter warmer!
- 7 tbsp olive oil (divided), plus a drizzle for finishing
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 large carrot, washed and cut into bite-sized chunks
- 200g (c.7 oz) celery, cut into bite-sized chunks
- 2 large bay leaves
- 1 large sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried)
- Dash sea salt
- 6 large cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 medium potatoes, washed and cut into bite-sized chunks
- 1 medium leek, washed and cut into 2.5 cm (1") slices
- 2 tbsp tomato purée (paste), mixed with 240ml (1 cup) water
- 200g (c.7 oz) dark green cabbage (e.g. Savoy), cut into strips
- 200g (c.7 oz) cavolo nero (or other dark kale), cut into strips (note 1)
- 200g (c.7 oz) chard, cut into strips (note 2)
- 2 x 400g (c.13 oz) cans cannellini beans (do not drain!)
- 1.5 litre (c.6 cups) vegetable stock
- 300g (c.14 oz) pane Toscana, sourdough, or other robust, stale bread, cut into 2.5 cm (1") cubes
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- In a large saucepan or stockpot, sauté the onion, carrot, celery, bay, rosemary, and a pinch of sea salt in 2 tbsp oil over a medium heat for 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic, potatoes, leek, and remaining oil, and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the tomato purée mixed with water.
- Add the cabbage, kale, and chard, and stir well.
- Tip the entire contents of 1 can of beans into a blender or food processor, plus the aquafaba from the other can, and 1.5 litres (6 cups) broth. (Set the drained beans aside for now.)
- Blitz for a few seconds, until you have a smooth bean broth (broda dei fagioli). Stir half of this into the pan.
- Bring the soup to the boil, then reduce the heat, and simmer for around an hour and a half, occasionally stirring in more bean broth, a ladleful at a time.
- When the vegetables are cooked, and the soup is creamy, stir in the rest of the beans and the bread.
- Cover, and set aside to rest for 30 mins, then season with a few grinds of black pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil before serving.
- Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the 'fridge for up to a week, or make into ribollita Fiorentina by tipping the pottage into a hot skillet and frying until you have a firm-ish pancake (you'll need to flip it over halfway through the cooking).
- AKA lacinato kale, dinosaur kale.
- AKA leaf beet, silver beet. Use the whole thing, stalks an' all!
Serving Size ⅛ of the recipe
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value
Total Fat 14 g
Saturated Fat 2 g
Sodium 367 mg
Total Carbohydrates 54 g
Dietary Fiber 9 g
Sugars 7 g
Protein 12 g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.