This hearty soup hailing from the hills of Tuscany may at first sound a bit too, dare we say, healthy? Do not fear! This soup is heavenly. Healthy, yes, but also so filled with flavor. You will find yourself going to this recipe time and time again.
Traditionally this is a vegetarian soup (minus the chicken stock), but to add a bit more substance we’ve added Italian sausage to the mix. You can follow the recipe as is, or leave it out, depending on your taste.
This dish takes some time. It cannot be rushed. Set aside 1.5 to 2 hours for this to be perfect. If you only cook it 30 minutes, even if the veggies are tender, it will not be right. Take your time! Your house will smell wonderful while it cooks!
1 leek (Note: leeks can be dirty. Make sure to chop it up and give it a good rinse. We recommend a spin in a salad spinner if you have one.)
4-6 cloves garlic
2-3 stalks celery
1 small cabbage or 1/2 large cabbage
1 full bunch lacinato kale
1 32oz can crushed tomatoes
1 16oz can cannelini beans
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
32oz chicken stock (vegetable stock or water will also work)
64oz cold water
1lb hot or sweet Italian sausage (optional)
1 cup parsley
Salt and pepper to taste (this dish can handle at least 1 tablespoon of salt)
2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
Step 1: Rinse, Chop, Sauté
Chop and rinse leeks, cabbage, kale, carrots and celery. Chop garlic.
Heat oil to medium/high (ideally in a thick Dutch oven, but any large pot works). When oil is hot, if using sausage, add it to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. If not, then continue on to the veggies.
Add vegetables in the following order: leeks, celery, carrots and cabbage. Stir and sauté for 10 minutes. If using tomato paste, stir into the veggie mixture 5 minutes into this 10-minute time period. Stir continuously. The goal is to have the tomato paste begin to darken and caramelize a bit, but you do not want it to burn. No tomato paste? Don’t worry, you can skip that step and it will still be delicious.
Step 2: Tomatoes, Garlic, Stock
After the 10 minute sauté, add chopped garlic and chopped tomatoes. Stir and continue to cook for 10 more minutes. Drinking a glass of red wine as you cook? Pour 1 cup in with the tomatoes (optional).
Add chicken stock and water. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and continue simmering for 30 more minutes.
Optional Pro Tip: If you have legit Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on hand, cut off a bit of the hard rind and throw it in the pot. The rind adds a rich, nutty flavor. Sometimes rinds are sold in stores for this very purpose. Get some, they keep in the fridge for a very, very long time.
Step 3. Kale and 30 more minutes of cooking
Chop kale or tear it with your hands to give a more rustic feel, making sure to discard the woody stalks. Stir in and keep the pot simmering for another 30 minutes. You can keep the lid off at this point.
Step 4: Beans and finishing touches
Getting close! Add cannelini beans to the soup. Simmer for 10 minutes until the all ingredients have formed a rich-looking broth. Give it a taste! If it needs some salt or pepper, add a bit more.
Turn off the heat, add chopped parsley, some additional Parmigiano cheese if on hand, a drizzle of olive oil and serve. Or, if you really want to experience true soup nirvana, continue to the next step.
Step 5. (Optional) Soup nirvana
Take 1/2 a loaf of slightly stale bread. Not Wonder bread or other sandwich bread! You want a chewy loaf with a crusty exterior, like a baguette, or a loaf from Sweet Water or Bread Box Bakery (Rustic White, Mountain Bread or County Loaf). Rip the bread into bite-sized pieces and add it to the hot soup. Serve immediately. The bread will soak up the broth, thickening the soup and adding complexity.
Fun historical soup fact! Ribollita comes from the word meaning "reboil" in Italian. Traditionally, the soup would be made without bread for the first meal. The next day, bread would be added to the dwindling leftover soup to fortify it back into a heartier meal. Turns out it’s also an incredibly delicious thing to do!