Vegetable & bean soup

Vegetable & bean soup


Lauren Bamford

The classic Florentine winter soup, ribollita, literally means ‘reboiled’, which not only implies the use of leftovers but also refers to one of the essential techniques in getting this soup just right. Using stale bread, seasonal vegetables and reliable beans, this is a cheap and nourishing dish.

A key ingredient for this recipe is cavolo nero, a durable, dark green, almost bluish cabbage with long, slender bumpy leaves. At a certain point in winter, cavolo nero seems to be the only thing that you can find in the markets. Florentines use it in many winter dishes: in soups, as a topping for crostini or as a side dish to serve with meat.

Also key is the stale bread, it is what lends the soup its characteristic thickness. Ribollita, along with pappa al pomodoro and panzanella, is one of the favourite ways to use up stale Tuscan bread – indeed, it’s a reason to buy the bread fresh and let it go stale. If you don’t have proper, unsalted Tuscan bread handy, use a good Italian loaf, preferably springy and white, with a dark, hard crust.

Artusi’s recipe for ribollita is, more than one hundred years later, still one of the best ways to make it and every Tuscan household probably does some slight variation on this. This is mine. The way my in-laws (like many Tuscans) like to serve this is with a quarter of a fresh red onion – dip it into the soup and take crunchy bites of onion and soup together. It’s not for the faint hearted or those who don’t like onion breath but it is certainly an authentic way to eat ribollita.


Quantity Ingredient
250g drained, tinned cannellini beans
or 250g * stewed cannellini beans [rid:32383]
1 small brown onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 celery stalk, finely chopped
5-6 flat-leaf parsley stalks, finely chopped
30g pancetta, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
125g savoy cabbage, chopped, (about a quarter of a head)
125g silverbeet, central veins removed and leaves chopped
125g cavolo nero, central veins removed and leaves chopped
1 potato, peeled and diced
125g stale bread, cut into chunky pieces, crusts removed
1 red onion, quartered, (optional)


  1. Purée about half of the beans together with about 125 ml of the bean cooking liquid (or water if using tinned beans) until smooth. Set aside.
  2. Place the onion, garlic, celery, parsley stalks and pancetta in a large stockpot and cook in the olive oil over a low heat. Gently sweat the onion until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add the cabbage, silverbeet, cavolo nero and potato and cover with 1 litre water. Season with salt and pepper, then add both the puréed and whole beans. Bring to a simmer, uncovered, and cook until the vegetables are cooked and tender, about 30 minutes – test for tenderness with the poke of a fork.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the bread, cover the pot and let it rest for at least 20 minutes (but an hour is better). Before serving, stir the pot to break up the soaked bread. It should be thick like porridge but you can add a bit of water if it is too thick. Reheat gently and serve. If desired, garnish with a quarter of a red onion.
  4. Save any leftovers for reheating the next day. After all, it wouldn’t be ribollita if it weren’t re-boiled.


  • Another flavourful alternative to using pancetta is the rind of a chunk of parmesan cheese, which you can remove just before serving. It also makes good use of something which might otherwise get thrown away.
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