Monday, July 27, 2009

In the soup

The phrase ‘vegetable soup’ doesn’t exactly set the imagination on fire, nor the palate awash with expectant juices. But, happily, this recipe is for ribollita – a sumptuous Tuscan version from The River Café Cookbook (though I actually lifted it from Culinary Pleasures by Nicola Humble) – which is to vegetable soup what Nina Simone is to Jessica Simpson.
The ingredients are not what I would describe as inspiring, but the method… It doesn’t so much bring them together as thrust them into an orgy of sensory joy (especially if consumed on a cold winter’s night). But be warned – I halved the amounts in the recipe when I made it, and still ended up with enough to feed eight...

Cavalo nero is essential for an authentic ribollita. Robust greens such as Swiss chard, the dark green outer leaves of Savoy cabbage, kale, broccoli or rape may be substituted.
Serves 10
250g (9 oz) cannellini or barlotti beans, cooked
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 whole heads celery, peeled and chopped
459g (1 lb) carrots, peeled and chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
1 x 800g (1,75 lb) tin peeled plum tomatoes, drained of their juices
2kg (4,5 lb) cavalo nero, stalks removed, leaves coarsely chopped
2 loaves stale ciabatta bread, crusts removed, sliced or torn
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

In a large saucepan fry the parsley leaves, garlic, celery, carrot and onion in the oil for about 30 minutes until the flavours combine. Add the tomatoes, and continue to cook on a gentle heat for a further 30 minutes, then add the cavalo nero and half the cannellini beans with enough of heir liquid to cover. Simmer for 30 minutes.
In a food processor, puree he remaining beans and return to the soup with just enough boiling water to make the soup liquid. Add the bread, a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. As exact amounts are no possible, you must balance the amount of liquid to bread so that the soup is very thick.

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