Updated: Sep 20, 2020
Tuscans insist that when the first frosts arrive, “cavolo nero” (lacinato kale) is at its tastiest. That’s the time to cook up a big batch of zuppa di fagioli, the scrumptious unpretentious peasant bean soup, loaded with greens and founded on crusty artisanal bread. This is classic Tuscan home cooking at its best ~ delicious, nourishing, economical, and practical.
Traditionally, any leftovers had a second life as “ribollita” (recooked), remoistened, then reheated in the oven and topped with crispy roasted onions. No wonder these “zuppe” are so renowned and beloved.
Minestra di Pane Prep Time 30 minutes + 1 hour if using dried beans Cooking time 1 hour Serves 4-6
Ribollita Prep time 5 minutes Baking time 45 minutes Serves 4-6
For Zuppa di Fagioli
6 slices of wholewheat sourdough boule OR crusty artisanal whole grain bread, sliced thickly, stale or toasted
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 pound dry cannellini beans or tarbais beans, soaked overnight or boiled for 3 minutes and steeped for 1 hour OR 3 ½ cans canned cannellini, rinsed and drained
8 cups water
Handful of fresh sage leaves
3 cloves garlic
2 red onions medium dice
2 carrots, medium dice
2 stalks celery, medium dice
Handful of Italian parsley, chopped
1/3 cup tomato paste, dissolved in hot bean broth
1 cup veggie broth or bean broth
2 bunches Lacinato kale, cut in ½” ribbons
½ small Savory cabbage, cut in ½” ribbons
3 bunches white Swiss chard, cut in ½ ribbons
2-3 medium potatoes, russet or yellow, peeled, large dice
Leaves from 6-8 sprigs of thyme, 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Aka (red) miso to taste •
Many grinds of black pepper
• Miso is a good salt alternative that helps to lower blood pressure (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5313421/#:~:text=Miso%2C%20which%20is%20made%20from,%2C%20including%20salt%2Dsensitive%20hypertension).
Vegetable broth to rehydrate the zuppa (directions below)
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
More fresh grinds of black pepper, to taste
Make the Beans
Rinse dry beans, add to a soup pot and cover with cold water by about 2.” Soak overnight. Alternatively, bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes on an active simmer. Then turn off the flame and steep for about an hour or until all beans have rehydrated and sunk below the surface.
Drain beans of their soaking water. Refill with fresh cool water, covering the beans by 2” (about 8 cups). Throw in sage leaves and garlic cloves. Simmer until quite soft but intact and fragrant, which could take 30 minutes or 1 hour, depending on the age of your beans.
Reserve ¼ of the cooked beans to leave whole. Transfer the remainder to a food processor with the garlic, sage and a little of the cooking broth and purée, You could also use a food mill. Add the puréed beans to the soup pot. Save the whole beans for later. Stir to combine.
If you are using canned beans, rinse well. Heat the water, and add the sage and garlic and cook until soft. Reserve ¼ of the beans, and purée the rest with the cooked garlic and sage and a little of the broth in a food processor or food mill. Return the puréed beans to the soup pot, saving the whole beans for later.
Sauté the Veggies
In a very large skillet, sweat the onions over low heat for 10 minutes until softened.
Add the diluted tomato paste, carrots, celery, and chopped parsley, cooking until soft and fragrant.
Add the greens now, thyme, and potatoes and if the mix is getting dry, add 1 cup of the bean broth. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, and cook for 5-10 minutes to blend all the flavors.
Empty the contents of the skillet into the soup pot and cook over a low simmer for about an hour or until the kale is tender.
Prepare the Bread
Slice the bread ½”-5/8” thick. Traditionally the bread was stale or if fresh, dried and roasted over a flame but you can toast it until it’s dry and crisp. Rub the surface with a raw clove of garlic.
Compose the Zuppa
In another soup pot (use one that can go in the oven for ribolitta), place slices of the garlicked bread, breaking them as needed to cover the surface. Cover with ladles of the hot soup and sprinkle on some of the whole beans. Pepper and repeat, creating three layers of the bread and all the soup and whole beans.
Cover, simmer for 10 more minutes, then turn off the flame and allow the bread to absorb all the liquid and soften completely. (It’s hard to wait but be patient!)
Enjoy the zuppa for a delightful supper, along with a nice green salad.
If you have leftovers, the following day (Tuscans are known to enjoy ribollita even for breakfast!), you’ll likely need to remoisten the soup significantly (the bread is very absorptive). Use a good quality veggie broth or better yet, make your own:
1 red onion
1 stalk celery
Handful of Italian parsley
2 cloves garlic
¼ Savoy cabbage, cut chiffonade (in ribbons)
In a 3-quart stainless pot sweat the onions over medium-low heat. When they soften, add the carrots and celery. Cover and cook a few minutes more. Add a little water if they begin to adhere and stir.
Using a chef knife or mezzaluna, chop the parsley and garlic together finely and add to the sauté. Cook another minute then fill the pot with water and add the cabbage.
Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook, covered, until quite soft and fragrant ~ an hour on low would be ideal.
Baking the Ribollita
Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.
If your zuppa di fagioli was cooked in a pot that can withstand high oven heat, ladle in sufficient broth with their veggies into the soup pot to rehydrate the contents, break up the bread as you mix in the broth to create a consistency that is soft, fluffy and sufficiently moist without being liquidy.
Season to taste and top with the slivered onions. Cover and bake until heated through and bubbly, about 35-50 minutes. Raise the oven temp to 425°F/218°C, remove cover, and roast for another 10-15 minutes until the onions turn golden. Serve in plates or bowls and savor every bite.