Tuscans insist that when the first frosts arrive, cavolo nero (black cabbage a.k.a. lacinato kale) is tastiest. That’s the time to cook up a big batch of zuppa di fagioli, the scrumptious unpretentious peasant soup, loaded with greens, beans, 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 Tuscan zuppe are so beloved.
Zuppa Prep Time 30 minutes + up to 1 hour if using dried beans Cook time about 1 hour Serves 4-6
Ribollita Prep time 5 minutes Bake time 45 minutes Serves 4-6
Zuppa di Fagioli
1 pound dry cannellini beans or tarbais beans, soaked overnight, or boiled for 3 minutes and steeped for 1 hour
8 cups water
Handful of fresh sage leaves
3 cloves garlic
OR 3 ½ cans canned cannellini, rinsed and drained
2 red onions, cut in a medium dice
2 carrots, cut in a medium dice
2 stalks celery, cut in a medium dice
Fistful of Italian parsley, roughly chopped
1/3 cup tomato paste, dissolved in hot bean broth
1 cup no-sodium vegetable broth or bean cooking water
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
¼ cup nutritional yeast, plus more for the ribollita
Aka (red) miso paste to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, plus more for the ribollita
6 thick slices of whole wheat sourdough boule OR crusty artisanal whole grain bread, stale or toasted
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled
Leftover zuppa di fagioli
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
Rinse dry beans, add to a soup pot and cover with cold water by about 2 inches. Soak overnight. Alternatively, bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Then turn off the flame and steep for about an hour or until all beans have rehydrated and sunk under the surface.
Drain beans. Refill the pot with 8 cups of fresh cool water, which should cover the beans by about 2”. Throw in the sage leaves and garlic cloves. Simmer until the beans are tender but intact and the broth is fragrant, which could take as little as 30 minutes or as much an hour depending on the age of your beans.
If using canned beans, rinse well. Heat 8 cups of water to a boil, add the sage and garlic, lower the heat to simmer the aromatics until tender, about 15 minutes.
Reserve ¼ of the cooked or canned beans. Transfer the rest, together with the cooked garlic and sage and ¼ cup of the garlic-sage broth to a food processor and purée. Alternatively, use a food mill with the large disc. Stir the puréed beans back into the soup pot, reserving the whole beans for later.
In a large over-proof sauté pan, 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, about 10 minutes.
Add the lacinato kale, savoy cabbage, and Swiss chard, one half of the thyme, and potatoes to the skillet and if the mix is getting dry, add 1 cup of the bean broth. Cover and gently simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
Empty the contents of the sauté pan back into the soup pot and cook, uncovered, at a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes or until the kale is tender. Remove from the heat and season the soup with fresh grinds of black pepper, nutritional yeast, and red miso to taste. You can enjoy this zuppa di fagioli as is for a lighter supper or continue.
Slice the bread ½”-5/8” thick. Traditionally stale Tuscan bread was used but you can toast yours until dry and crisp. Rub the surface with a raw clove of garlic.
Line the bottom of the sauté pan with slices of the garlic bread, breaking them as needed to cover the surface. Season with fresh black pepper, and sprinkle a little more nutritional yeast, and a third of the remaining thyme leaves. Ladle in the hot soup to barely cover the bread, sprinkle on a little more nutritional yeast and a third of the remaining thyme leaves, 1/3 of the reserved whole beans, and a grind or two of black pepper. Repeat with 2 additional layers of bread, pepper, nutritional yeast, thyme, soup, and whole beans. Reserve any remaining soup for ribollita on the following day.
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 zuppa di fagioli for a delightful supper, along with a nice green salad.
Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.
If you have leftovers, the following day (Tuscans are known to enjoy ribollita even for breakfast!), you’ll likely need to moisten the sauté pan’s contents. Ladle in sufficient leftover zuppa de fagioli to rehydrate the sauté pan’s contents, breaking up the bread as you mix in the soup to create a consistency that is soft, fluffy, moist but not soupy.
Top with the slivered onions. Cover and bake until heated through and bubbly, about 35-40 minutes. Raise the oven temp to 425°F/218°C, remove cover, and roast for another 10 minutes until the onions turn golden. Serve in heated bowls and savor every bite.