Tuscan kale soup, or ‘Ribollita‘ as it’s called in Tuscany, is a favourite winter soup. If you’re visiting this part of the world in winter, make like a local and order yourself a bowl. It’s as much a part of the Tuscan heritage as Michelangelo or Dante. So if you’ve always wanted to know what goes into this trusted recipe, you’ve come to the right place.
Tuscan kale. Delicious veggie chic.
Cavolo nero, black cabbage, Tuscan kale. Call it what you like, it’s a pretty unique vegetable. A distinctive plant of the brassica family, with a strong, earthy taste. It’s long been a favourite in Tuscany but now its made the move to “veggie chic“, jumping from the kitchens of Tuscan grandmas to the pages of popular magazines.
It’s not all down to its flavour and health benefits (it’s rich in iron among other things). Its dark bluish colour and chunky, elongated leaves make it pretty photogenic too. It’s a king among vegetables and here’s a few reasons why it reigns supreme.
Black kale and what to do with it.
In its simplest form, you can boil it and layer it on a slice of toasted Tuscan bread, rubbed with garlic and splashed with plenty of olive oil. It’s hard to believe that cabbage can taste so heavenly. Cannellini beans have always been the perfect match for Cavolo Nero. And black cabbage served with Tuscan pork sausages is simply divine.
Pesto with black kale is another easy recipe. You’ll need pine nuts, walnuts or almonds, olive oil and some garlic. Parboil the cabbage leaves for 3 minutes, then mix it with the other ingredients in a food processor. While it’s mixing, slowly add the olive oil in a steady small stream to help it emulsify. You can add a bit of the cooking water if necessary. Another light recipe is kale and pumpkin soup, a perfect recipe to warm up the winter months.
Kale soup with cannellini beans, Tuscan Ribollita
But there is one dish, quintessentially Tuscan, that really makes the most of black kale. That is Ribollita, or ‘Tuscan kale soup‘. This thick soup is a perfect example of “cucina povera” (literally ‘poor cooking’). The idea behind the cucina povera is to use what’s available, simple ingredients for a dish made to last a few days. In this case cannellini beans, black cabbage and other vegetables, and stale Tuscan bread, unsalted of course.
There’re many variants of this recipe that use all other sorts of vegetables along with the black kale. But in our opinion, the purist version is the best, using only kale.
Here’s how you make it:
Boil up some cannellini beans, drain them and put the cooking water to one side. Blend three quarters of the beans and return to the cooking water. Keep the remaining beans that are still intact to add at the end.
In another pot prepare the vegetable soup. Chop some onion, garlic, celery and carrot and simmer in olive oil. Add the black kale and bean puree along with its water. Add a few sprigs of thyme, tomatoes (fresh, canned or as a paste – and not too much) and cook for 1 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Finally add the other (intact) beans and the stale bread. Yes, the bread must be stale. If you don’t have Tuscan bread try another rustic white, french country bread, and sourdough can work and supermarket ciabatta if nothing else is available. Leave the soup at least two hours before serving.
Remember: the name Ribollita means ‘reboiled‘. Tuscan kale soup is supposed to be reboiled, on the stove of course, not in the microwave. It can be served very hot or lukewarm, with abundant Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. You do not need to add parmesan.
If you’ve enjoyed this ideas, have a look at other Tuscan vegetarian dishes. Typical Tuscan cooking is not all about meat after all. It involves plenty of fresh vegetables and the beloved unsalted bread.