Monday, February 9, 2009

Ribollita "Winter Soup"

It's a cliche for a reason: there's really nothing more comforting and soothing after a long, cold day in early February than a huge pot of soup. About a month ago, I was browsing "Barefoot Contessa at Home" for the seventh or so time, and this recipe just tugged at me- loaded with Italian white beans, sourdough bread, kale, and of course, smoky pancetta, it seemed the perfect thing to warm up my apartment and myself during a D.C. winter. As soon as I polished off my first bowl, I was hooked.

This isn't a soup that you taste in delicate sips- it's meaty and robust, and wonderfully filling without being leaden in your stomach afterward. Plus, it makes a BIG pot, which is perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon when you want a nice project for an hour or so, and enough payoff for a few leftover meals. It's almost ridiculous how many times I've made this in the past month, yet I'm not even slightly sick of it yet.

I hate to mess with genius, but there are a few aspects of Ina's recipe that I had to tweak to make this soup my own. First, the meat. The first time I made this, I faithfully used pancetta but was disappointed- the smoky aroma dissipated in the soup, leaving fairly bland chunks of pancetta and almost no flavor in the broth. So, I made a switch to smoked BACON (of course!) and was amazed at the improvement. The bacon really infuses its flavor into the vegetable aromatics that make up the base of the soup, and makes the whole dish taste much more complex and delicious. And I swear that's not just my bacon prejudice talking!

(Mmmm... aromatics and bacon...)

Since my crazy life schedule doesn't exactly allow for the planning and execution of something like soaking dried beans overnight, I've used canned cannellini (white kidney) beans instead. Just make sure to rinse off the liquid from the cans before adding them to the soup or food processor. In addition, since there is no "bean soaking liquid", I just use a little chicken stock in the puree step. Sorry, Ina... I promise to try it your way sometime, I swear! I've included both preparations for the recipe below, so definitely let me know if I'm missing out by ignoring the dried beans.

I also like to drop in a Parmesan cheese rind once the chicken stock has been added, so that there's enough liquid for the rind to release its flavors into the broth. I read this article last year, which gave me the impetus to grab a container of Parmesan rinds at Whole Foods to keep in the freezer for such occasions as this soup. Adding one or two to a pot gives a savory layer of flavor to the soup and also ties in nicely when you add a sprinkling of cheese on top of the finished dish.

(Cheesy goodness!)

Finally, I prefer to use a heartier wheat bread for the bread cubes than Ina's recommended sourdough, but you should feel free to try both versions. I like that the wheat bread has more of an earthy, nutty taste- it seems to go with this peasant-y soup to me. I also decreased the amount of bread cubes, since this bad boy can get pretty dense (albeit delicious!).

(I heart carbs)


  • 1/2 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini (or 2 cans beans)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for serving
  • 1/4 pound large diced pancetta (or smoked bacon)
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (3 carrots)
  • 1 cup chopped celery (3 stalks)
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped or shredded savoy cabbage
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped kale
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, for serving


If using dried beans: In a large bowl, cover the beans with cold water by 1-inch and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to soak overnight in the refrigerator. Drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 8 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the beans are tender. Set the beans aside to cool in their liquid.

Step 1 if using canned beans; Step 2 if using dried beans: Heat the oil in a large stockpot. Add the pancetta/bacon and onions and cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, 1 tablespoon of salt, the pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes with their puree, the cabbage, the kale, and the basil and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for another 7 to 10 minutes.

If using dried beans: Drain the beans, reserving their cooking liquid.

If using canned beans: Rinse the beans in water.

Next step for both preparations: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree half of the beans with a little of their liquid (or chicken stock if using canned beans). Add to the stockpot, along with the remaining whole beans. Pour the bean cooking liquid into a large measuring cup and add enough chicken stock to make 8 cups (or just add 8 cups stock if using canned beans). Add to the soup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

Add the bread cubes to the soup and simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve hot in large bowls sprinkled with Parmesan and drizzled with olive oil. Enjoy!

(Not the prettiest to look at, but trust me,
you won't be able to stop eating it!)


  1. Looks good Dana! If you like soup, check out my friend's site - she is doing a soup week, and she takes awesome photos (she is a food stylist).


  2. You continue to amaze me! This looks fanastic. I wish when you come down you could stay a month and just cook for us!

    Love Mom

  3. Hi Dana,
    I love your blog! And I will definitely try some of the recipes...if I ever get around to cooking anything...I hope you're feeling better and seeing better!
    Barbara (Rachel's mom)

  4. Parmesan rinds rock. I use them for my minestrone. I am going to add your soup to my repertoire. Perfect for a cold evening in Maine.

  5. Just made the soup using your customized tweaks. AMAZING!!!