Wednesday, January 17, 2024

THE Soup. It's just that good.


It's 12 freaking degrees in metro Atlanta right now, so what's a girl to do other than hot tea and soup...

Seriously y'all, I'm kind of obsessed with this soup these days. In my mind, it's THE SOUP -- I've made it five times already this fall and winter, and it's become my lunchtime staple. 

Ribollita is a thick Tuscan vegetable soup, often made to use up stale bread. I had it for the first time at iRicchi, a DC Italian restaurant that has been a favorite of the K-Street crowd for more than 25 years - it was delicious and so thick you could stand your spoon up in it - drizzled with EVOO and sprinkled with fresh parmesan. 

The best bowl ever was at a small cafe in San Gimignano on a rainy day in Tuscany. A hot bowl of soup and a plate of prosciutto e melone stands out in my memory as an absolutely perfect meal for the day and time. 

It even makes a great anchor for a dinner party --I've made a big pot of THE SOUP and served it with plates of Italian yummies such as:

  • sliced canteloupe and prosciutto
  • a salad with arugula, bresaola and shaved parmesan, dressed with olive oil and lemon or balsamic
  • a Caprese salad
  • precooked arancini (risotto balls with mozzarella - Trader Joe's used to carry)
  • an antipasto plate of Italian meats, cheeses, and crackers

Of course my two go-to lady chefs (Ina Garten and Giada de Laurentiis) both have good recipes for this. I've been tweaking things a bit -- mostly to make it easier and still flavorful, and I've settled on this super-easy version of THE SOUP that comes together in just a few minutes with minimal chopping. Especially if you can use a tub of precut mirepoix (chopped carrots, onion, and celery often found in the product department) and some good crushed garlic -- the jarred minced garlic is nasty, but the frozen cubes from Dorot or the tubes in the produce department are great timesavers and taste just as good as fresh.

It's also very friendly to substitutions, so you can use whatever you happen to have on hand. If I don't buy mirepoix, I'll use a medium onion and 2-3 carrots. I don't care for celery all that much, so I don't mind leaving it out. Sometimes I'll add in half a chopped sweet pepper too, if there is one handy that needs to be eaten. And most recipes call for cannellini beans, but I think chickpeas work very well here, and I almost always have them in the pantry. If your deli department sells parmesan rinds, tossing a couple in here while the soup simmers is AMAZING. And if your bread is still fresh, toast the cubes on low heat in the oven or air fryer until they get crunchy.

If you don't add the bread, it's a pretty darn good veggie soup on its own. And I haven't tried it, but I'd imagine that swapping the chicken stock for vegetable stock would still be pretty tasty for a vegetarian option.  

Here's the basic recipe for THE SOUP

  • 1 tub mirepoix
  • 1 small-medium zucchini, diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 tsp italian seasoning
  • 1 generous pinch red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste - I use 1/1/2 tsp of each
  • 1 32-oz carton low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes (low sodium), undrained
  • 1 can chickpeas, undrained - the starchy liquid helps the soup thicken
  • 3 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped (or just dump them in)
  • 3 cups stale bread, cut into small cubes (less than an inch - this is about half a baguette)

In a dutch oven or stockpot, saute the mirepoix in olive oil until it begins to soften, then add the zucchini and garlic until the veggies are soft but not browned.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, broth and seasonings, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and let it simmer for for 15 minutes. Add in spinach and bread. Let simmer another 15 minutes, letting the bread break down. If you want a thicker puree, help things along a little bit with a stick blender. The soup isn't quite as pretty, but I think it tastes even better! Serve with a sprinkle of parm on top. 


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