Alex Rushmer’s sort-of recipe for traditional Tuscan potage ribollita
This isn’t a recipe as such. It’s too fluid, too non-specific, too loose and free-form to be described as a traditional, instructional recipe.
It’s more of a series of ingredients and ideas, a vague list of items and directions that might not get you to the exact same location as me, but certainly in the same vicinity. More recipes should be like this.
We like different things, you and I, consequently there will be changes you wish to make. I encourage you to do so and share your results on social media with us. I’m keen to see where inspiration leads.
The only thing I insist on is you make more than you think you need. It will sustain you and your loved ones for a number of days.
Some sort of cured meat is a good addition right at the start. A heavily spiced sausage is a personal favourite. Chorizo, salami, nduja are all great. Bacon or pancetta would work well, too.
Remove any sausage skins or casings, roughly dice and then cook the meat
in a large saucepan (at least five litres) with plenty of olive oil until the fat begins to render.
Onion, celery and carrot are not quite non-negotiable, but they are pretty important and form a base layer of flavour that it is difficult to replicate with anything else.
Peel and chop at least two of each then add to the pan. Season with salt and cook more gently, and for far longer, than you think you need to. Thirty-five to 40 minutes should do it. Stir relatively regularly. While those are cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients:
Hardy, leafy brassicas fare well in this soup. Kale, chard, sprout tops, hispi cabbage, winter greens. Take your pick. Remove the stem if they are particularly woody and roughly chop the leaves.
Open and drain a couple of tins of beans of your choice. Pinto, haricot, kidney, butter – there are plenty to choose from.
Wine, water, stock, tomatoes or a combination of all four and enough to allow everything to simmer together in a bubbly hot bath. Two to three litres should be plenty.
Parboiled potatoes, stale bread, pasta, rice – the only thing to bear in mind is the absorbent qualities of your chosen carb, as you may well end up with much less soup than you intended, especially if you elect to use uncooked pasta or rice, which usually doubles in size while cooking. The point at which these are added to the pot is determined by their relative edibility.
Once the onion, celery and carrot are cooked, add the chopped leaves then the liquid, followed by the beans, and bring to a gentle boil. If you are using uncooked pasta or rice, add them now as well, then allow to cook for 20 minutes. Cooked pasta or rice, bread or potatoes need only go in to warm through, just before serving.
Acid, herbs and cheese
Soft, delicate herbs like parsley, tarragon or chervil need barely any cooking and should be added once the soup has finished cooking to help retain freshness. The same goes for a squeeze of lemon, a final, very generous drizzle of olive oil and a grating of hard, salty cheese like parmesan or pecorino. Eat several times over concurrent days. When it’s over, rinse and repeat.
Read Alex’s latest Chef’s Table blog, featuring ribollita, here