How to make Russell Norman’s ribollita
By Ella Walker. Published 2020-03-15
This hearty soup uses up lots of leftover bread.
“So often, domestic Italian recipes call for stale bread, usually chopped or torn into small chunks and sometimes soaked in milk. It is this frugal, sensible approach to household management that characterizes the cooking I love and certainly informs the choices of home cooks in Venice; always with one eye on the purse strings,” says food writer and restaurateur, Russell Norman.
“Ribollita is a great example of a hearty dish that, despite its humble, inexpensive ingredients, does not compromise on flavour. The addition of the bread creates a texture that I find deeply comforting, too.”
(Serves 4) - 300g dried cannellini beans - 2 bay leaves - Extra virgin olive oil - 1 large onion, finely diced - 1 large carrot, finely diced - 1 large celery stalk, finely diced - 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped - Flaky sea salt - 1tsp fennel seeds, crushed - A small handful of thyme leaves - Freshly ground black pepper - 1 × 400g tin of chopped tomatoes - 1/2 a loaf of stale bread, crustless, torn into small chunks - 1 whole cavolo nero, roughly shredded
Soak the beans overnight in a very large bowl with one of the bay leaves and plenty of cold water. Next day, drain the beans, transfer to a large pan, and cover well with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes, until soft. While cooking, remove scum as it comes to the surface. Retain two large cups of the cooking water, drain the beans and set aside.
In a large, heavy-based saucepan, heat a good glug or two of olive oil and gently sauté the onion, carrot, celery and garlic for a good 15 minutes, until soft and glossy. Add a good pinch or two of salt, the crushed fennel seeds, the thyme and a twist of black pepper.
Now add the chopped tomatoes, the cooked beans, one of the cups of cooking water and the second bay leaf, and stir over a medium heat for about 30-45 minutes. About halfway through, submerge the chunks of stale bread in the soup and add the shredded cavolo nero. You may need to use the second cup of cooking water.
When done, your thick soup will improve vastly if you leave it overnight in the fridge and reheat it the next day (ribollito means ‘re-boiled’). Either way, remember to remove the bay leaves and finish each bowl with a twist of pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.