Wednesday, 26 February 2014

24 Hour Soup!

Ribollita con i Borlotti
Ribollita (Tuscan Re-Boiled Soup) with Borlotti Beans

It was Nina that gave me the idea to make this, when I bought the Tuscan kale from her on Saturday, at the market hall. I knew of course, that is was "just kale", but by way of making conversation, I asked her what would be the best dish to make with it, or to be more precise, what would be the most typical thing they might do with it in Italy. Rather infuriatingly, she said to me, "actually I have never prepared it myself..." to which I should have answered "aaargh!!", then she redeemed herself by adding, "...but you could always make a nice pot of "ribollita", like they make in Tuscany"... and suddenly I was smiling again :-)

I remembered enjoying eating it on my trip to Tuscany a couple of years ago- so simple but rich and filled with honest and natural flavors- and I knew from its name, "ribollita", that it was a vegetable soup that had been re-boiled- because that is what the word means. And that has probably been the main reason I had never made it for myself so for. .. but on Saturday I decided that the time was right to do just that...

Ribollita is basically just a simple vegetable soup- or stew if you like. The only 3 ingredients that are absolute "must have's" are the kale, some bread that is a day or teo old and some beans... the rest is... whatever is in season and whatever you happen to have in your fridge!

Normally, the beans used would be Cannellini's, but I had these lovely, speckled Borlotti's at home and decided to use those instead. I also added half of an onion, a carrot, a stick of celery, a handful of diced red pepper, 2 small parsnips and about a third of a large yellow zucchini, as well as the remaining half-can of San Marzano tomatoes from my risotto the other night. And more of the lovely, rich and aromatic oregano I got from Mrs. Wong... I do love shopping at the market hall folks! Can't you tell?!?!

So my soup-making adventure began yesterday morning, when I put a handful of beans into a bowl to soak, before heading out to work. By the time I got home, 10 hours later, they were swollen and wrinkled and ready for cooking- alternatively, I could have opened a can of beans, which I think is absolutely a fine thing to do... but the beans were there and so I used them... the end. Well not quite- actually that was just the beginning! 

The beans, along with the kale, the carrot, the celery, the parsnips, the onion and the peppers, were the first ingredients to go into the saucepan. I cut these into a nice, chunky dice and started them boiling with enough water to cover them by an inch or so. I let them simmer that way for around 1 1/2 hrs without adding any salt, so as to let the beans cook better and become softer.

An hour and a half later, I added the tomatoes and seasoned with salt, pepper, a tiny hint of sugar and a hint of cayenne. I brought the soup back up to the boil and then sprinkled the diced zucchini on top and turned off the heat... that was enough cooking for the first round and there was enough heat already in the saucepan to practically cook the zucchini through- but not quite! I wanted to leave something still to cook for this evening after all!

When I got home from work this evening, after spending the whole day and night getting richer and more delicious, I put the soup back onto the stovetop and set about transforming it from a regular "zuppa" into "ribollita". This took only a further half an hour or so, and in the meantime, I toasted the left over bread roll from Sunday to add into the soup... just like in The Old Country :-)

After re-heating the soup for half an hour or so, to my taste, it was ready to serve. Of course it is important that some of the vegetables become a little overcooked- such as the carrot and parsnip, which give a lot of rich flavor, but what I didn't want to do, was to ruin the zucchini by cooking it so long that it totally disintegrated- nope, it was good to add is separately towards the end!

I served it up piping hot and tore off a few crusty chunks of bread to add, along with a light sprinkle of salted ricotta, some coarsely-ground black pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil... delicious! The very last ingredients I added were a scattering of fresh oregano leaves- which tend to turn dark, almost black when exposed to heat... but their rich and aromatic flavor was just perfect to give a hint of freshness and knock this simple "poor peoples" food out of the ball field! It was so terrific! So thank's Nina- you had a great idea after all- and I will tell you all about it when I stop by on Saturday!

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