It doesn't get better than a satisfying pot of Ribollita, a classic Tuscan soup that's made with white beans, vegetables, and hearty day-old bread. Make it stovetop or in your slow-cooker. And you'll love the rich Italian flavors, thanks to a couple of herbs and a little Parmesan cheese magic!
Be sure to read through for tips and watch the video for how to make it below.
Zuppa di ribollita!
Ribollita, pronounced ree-bohl-LEE-tah, is a classic, hearty Tuscan white bean soup (stew) with vegetables, thickened with day-old bread. It's typically seasoned with some herbs (fresh or dried), and in this recipe, an additional secret flavor maker: Parmesan cheese rind!
The word "ribollita" translates from the Italian to "reboiled," as this soup was typically made by reboiling leftover bean and vegetable soups the next day, adding bits of stale bread for a thicker and more filling stew.
It is truly a brilliant warm-your-belly meatless dinner that's meant to use up what you have on hand. And like other centuries-old Italian recipes, including my earlier chicken cacciatore, there are many modern variations of ribollita.
And you can file this under vegetarian recipes, but it's important to remember that not all Parmesan cheese is vegetarian.
This Tuscan ribollita recipe, while not 100 percent traditional, is delicious and satisfying--just the perfect meal to feed a hungry crowd. I can't wait for you to try it!
What beans and vegetables to use?
Classic ribollita ingredients are quite humble: white beans such as cannellini beans, leafy greens like kale, and vegetables like onions, carrots, celery (which make a tasty sofrito, gently sauteed in extra virgin olive oil, to start the soup). Tomatoes (or canned tomatoes as in today's recipe) are also added.
Remember that you can make this recipe your own by adding other vegetables you have on hand. I've often used spinach in place of kale. And an Italian friend of mine tells me that her family makes a summer version with summer squash or zucchini.
What kind of bread to use?
You will need some crusty, hearty, day-old bread. I used ciabatta in today's recipe, but another Italian country bread or even something like French boule will work.
Important tips for the bread:
- Cut the bread in large chunks. As you see in the video, I use my hand to tear the bread apart into large chunks. Don't cut it with a knife into small cubes. Small cubes will not give you the right texture here.
- Toast the bread in the oven. Drizzle the big chunks of bread with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil and toast in a high-heated oven (400 degrees F) for just 10 minutes or so. The olive oil flavors the bread and it will crsip up just enough in the oven. Although the bread will soften quite a bit in the soup, I think this step does make a difference.
- Keep some of the toasted bread to garnish the soup for texture. This way, you'll also have some if you need it later!
- When to add the bread to your ribollita soup? In this recipe, I add a portion of the bread to the pot of bean and vegetable soup toward the end of cooking time (or a few minutes before serving) the bread soaks some fo the liquid beautifully. You can also add the bread in the serving bowls directly and ladle the soup on top, give it a few minutes to absorb. But, if you're not serving the soup rightaway, you'll want to hold the bread and add it later (see my make ahead note below).
Typically, a few fresh or dry herbs are used. In this recipe we have thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and dry oregano. And if you like a bit of heat, add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.
But the secret flavor maker is: Parmesan rind! If you used to throw away your cheese rind, you need to keep it in your freezer for soup recipes like this one.
As the soup simmers beautifully, the Parmesan rind will dissolve some (or entirely depending on how much you used), imparting richness and flavor. You will take out whatever is left of the rind along with the bay leaf and thyme springs before serving.
Tips for make-ahead ribollita
Yes, this Tuscan white bean soup is even better the next day, remember the beans and vegetables are meant to be reboiled again for even more flavor, but here is what you want to do for best results:
- Cook the soup with the beans and vegetables but leave the bread out.
- When ready to serve, reboil the soup (remember, it's meant to be reboiled).
- Tear the bread apart and toast with a bit of extra virgin olive oil in the oven.
- Add the toasted bread in the boiling soup and give it a few minutes to absorb (and it's always a good idea to leave some of the toasted bread for garnish, this gives some texture)
Can I make this soup in the slow cooker?
I'm more of a Dutch oven gal (affiliate link), but if you want to use dry beans for this recipe, the slow cooker (affiliate) is your best bet. You can use 1 cup dry cannellini beans (no need to soak) and leave out the kale and bread until later when the soup is almost ready. Set the slow cooker on high for 6 hours or low for 12 hours (at which point, you can stir in the kale and allow it a few minutes to cook).
Toast the bread and add it to the soup a few minutes before you are ready to serve.
Need more bean recipes? Check out 17 Bean Recipes for any night of the week.
You may also like:
Stuffed Eggplant with Chickpeas and Couscous
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- 1 loaf ciabatta bread
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large red onion chopped
- 2 celery stalks chopped
- 2 to 3 carrots peeled and chopped
- Kosher salt
- 6 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 28 oz canned whole San Marzano tomatoes (or any whole canned tomatoes you like)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 15- oz cans cannellini beans drained and well rinsed
- 1 inch Parmesan rind
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp dry oregano
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optional
- 1 lb kale, thick stems and veins removed, chopped
- grated Parmesan cheese, optional
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Tear the bread into large pieces and put it on a large sheet pan. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and toss to make sure the bread is coated. Spread the bread in one layer on the sheet pan. Bake in the heated oven for about 10 minutes or until somewhat toasted and golden brown.
- In a large cooking pot, heat 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the onions, celery and carrots. Sprinkle a little kosher salt. Lower the heat to medium and cook, tossing regularly, until softened. Add the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, tossing regularly (do not let the garlic brown).
- Add the tomatoes, white wine and broth. Cook over medium heat for little bit, stirring and breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.
- In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade, combine about ½ cup of the brothy tomato mixture and 1 cup of the cannelini beans. Puree.
- To the pot with the tomato mixture, add the parmesan rind, fresh thyme, bay leaf, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir to combine. Let simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes.
- Now add the white beans (both the whole and pureed beans) and fresh kale (stir to make sure the kale is submerged in the soup) to the cooking pot. Let the kale cook for a few minutes. Add ½ of the toasted ciabatta bread and stir. Let simmer a little bit longer until the kale has fully cooked and the bread has softened and absorbed some fo the liquid (see notes).
- Remove from the heat. Remove what is left of the Parmesan rind, bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Top the soup with a bit more of the toasted bread. Finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan, if you like. Enjoy!
- Low carb option...add the bread to the serving bowls instead. If you're not sure you're going to finish the ribollita soup in one dinner, or if some in your family need their ribollita with little or no bread, consider adding the toasted bread directly to the serving bowls, then ladle the bean and vegetable soup on top and allow a few minutes for the bread to absorb some of the liquid.
- Make ahead option. If you are not planning on serving the soup right away, or if you're making it ahead for lunch or dinner the next day, cook the soup with the beans and vegetables according to the recipe but hold off on the bread. When you're ready to serve it, reboil the soup (remember, ribollita means reboiled). While the soup is reboiling, toast the bread in the oven with a bit of extra virgin olive oil (step 1). Add some of the bread to the soup and allow it a bit of time to absorb the liquid and soften. Always keep a bit of the toasted bread to garnish, it gives great texture.
- Slow Cooker Option. If you want to use a slow cooker, you can use 1 cup of dried beans. Skip steps #1 and #2, you will toast the bread later before you serve. Cook the sofrito per step #3 then transfer to the slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the kale. Set the slow cooker on high for 6 hours or low for 12 hours (always a good idea to check on the soup from time to time). Follow the You can use 1 cup dry cannellini beans (no need to soak). Add the kale and leave it a few minutes (should be on high) until cooked. A few minutes before serving, remove the Parmesan rind, bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Toast the bread and add it to the soup and allow it a bit of time to soak up some of the liquid.
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