Ribollita is one of my favorite things to make. Traditional ribollita is a Tuscan peasant’s dish – making good use of stale bread. I always love those stories, of how people have made scraps that seem like garbage into something so delightful. A tiny bit of meat, some beans, some veggies, a little stock, a little bread. It’s simple, and it’s wonderful.
This, however, is not your traditional ribollita. I don’t tend to have stale bread in the house, and frankly I like to eat bread as is! This is more of a “take” on ribollita – where I make the stew, but I serve crusty bread on the side. (Maybe even toasted, rubbed with garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil.) Feel free to toast up some bread cubes and toss them into the stew if you prefer, though! I love to adapt a recipe to my own tastes, and I hope you do the same to suit yours.
My husband is not a fan of soup or stew, or at least he says he isn’t, until he’s eating it. I think it’s one of those things where he wouldn’t choose it, but if I make it, he does enjoy it. I do find that leaning toward stews, and adding something extra like pancetta, tend to make him a little more likely to sit down and enjoy it without an eye roll. A hunk of bread on the side doesn’t hurt, either. The man loves his carbs. (so do I!) This is my go-to dish when I feel like I need just a bowl of veggies for dinner because I am not a salad person. Seriously. I don’t like salad. No.
I use pancetta that I can get pre-diced in 4 oz packages in the deli section of my grocery store. Sometimes I use all 4 oz, sometimes just 2 oz. Depends on how I want the dish to turn out – veggie heavy or pancetta heavy? At most stores, pancetta can be found behind the deli counter. You’ll want to ask them to slice it in about ¼” thickness – but up to about ½” would be fine.
- 2-4 oz of diced pancetta (guanciale would work too, or thick cut bacon, but it will be smoky if you use bacon.)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 carrots, peeled and diced or sliced
- 3 stalks of celery, diced or sliced
- 2 small or one medium/large zucchini, sliced into half-moons about ½” thick
- 1 bunch of Tuscan kale, or about 12 oz of curly kale leaves, leaves separated from stalks and cut or torn into large bite size pieces. Optional: Chop the kale stems and include them in the stew.
- 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flake, optional
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 tsp dried oregano, Italian seasoning blend, or Herbs de Provence
- 1 can cannellini beans, drained (Or about 1 cup cooked cannellini or similar beans)
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (Or bean broth from home-cooked beans)
- Crusty bread and grated pecorino romano or parmesan for serving
Heat one tsp olive oil in a large skillet, braiser, or dutch oven over medium heat. Brown the diced pancetta until it has given off its fat and is a little bit crisp and golden. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and reserve in a small bowl. Return the pan to the heat and add carrots and celery, stirring for about one minute. (If you are using the kale stems, add them about a minute before the carrots and celery.) Add the onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is mostly translucent, and the other veggies are almost soft but retain some crunch. Stir in the zucchini – it doesn’t take long to soften, and again season with a little salt and pepper. When the zucchini is softened slightly, add the garlic and red pepper flakes (if using) and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
Add the diced tomatoes, using the liquid from the can to deglaze the pan if necessary. Then add the dried herbs, drained beans, and chicken/vegetable stock/bean broth, and simmer for 3-5 minutes, allowing the tomatoes to break down slightly. Return the reserved pancetta to the pan along with the kale leaves, stirring in the kale and letting it wilt, about 3-5 minutes. If you are using curly kale, it will take slightly longer than Tuscan kale, in my experience, but it does turn out just fine. (I often use handfuls of curly kale from my bag that I buy for smoothies – I just pull the stems off as I find them and throw them back in the bag for smoothie making tomorrow.)
When the kale is wilted, taste for seasoning, then serve in shallow bowls, with crusty bread. Garnish the stew with a drizzle of olive oil and grated cheese (pecorino is my favorite for this) of your choosing. Some minced herbs are nice here too, but that’s really not necessary.