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Ribollita - Tuscan bean and vegetable soup

When my mother - always an excellent cook - reached her eighties, she began to lose confidence in the kitchen. Now, when I go for a meal, I get goulash and dumplings. Or goulash and Yorkshire pudding - except that, like her pastry-making skills, her ability to make lovely light little puddings has mysteriously evaporated. Or sausages and mash - thankfully her floured and deepfried onions are still as wonderful as ever.

Anyway, that was when she started unloading her more exotic cookbooks onto me. Recently, in her copy of Mary Reynolds? The Love of Italian Cooking (inscribed by my Dad ?To Pete, who found the way to this man?s heart long before she learned to cook?), I found a recipe for Ribollita, a hearty and healthy meal-in-a-soup that has - with variations - become a firm favourite of mine.

A word of warning: the combination of lots of beans and lots of cabbage is not the best thing to eat if you?re prone to - er - abdominal gas. Trouble is, this soup is just so good…


  • 225 g dried haricot beans, soaking in water overnight
  • 5 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 2 leeks, thinly sliced
  • 500 g green cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 sprig each of thyme and rosemary, tied together
  • 1 Tbs tomato purée
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 large slice of bread cut into small dice and lightly browned in the oven


  1. Drain the soaked beans, bring to the boil in a large saucepan of fresh water, boil vigorously for ten minutes and simmer, covered, until tender - around three hours.
  2. In a large saucepan (I use my old pressure cooker), fry the onion, garlic and celery gently in about 3 tablespoons of oil for about ten minutes (you want to tenderise the aromatic vegetables and bring out their flavours - not caramelise them).
  3. Add the leeks, cabbage and herbs and continue frying gently for another three to four minutes.
  4. Drain the beans and add the cooking liquor and the tomato puree to the vegetables.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Bring to the boil and simmer until the cabbage is cooked to suit you. It needs to be fairly limp, but I like it with a bit of bite.
  7. Add the beans and extra water if necessary, and bring back to simmering point.
  8. Remove the herbs and adjust the seasoning.
  9. Stir in the remaining oil (see below) and the parsley.
  10. Serve piping hot with the bread dice handed separately.

The ?extra water if necessary? presupposes that you know what the consistency of the soup should be. I?ve never had Ribollita in a restaurant, so my only clue is that the photograph in Mary Reynolds? book shows that the vegetables aren?t completely covered by the liquid. This is really more of a stew than a soup.

I like to serve the oil at the table instead of (or as well as) adding it to the pan, so that you can drizzle a Pattern in the surface of the soup.

The final touch for me is a good sprinkle of freshly-grated Parmesan.

The essence of this soup is its freshness, but there?s no reason why you shouldn?t add some stock or dissolve a vegetable stock cube when you simmer the vegetables. I made a batch recently with a couple of tins of cooked red kidney beans (why not?), and since I didn?t have the cooking water I added a couple of Maggi Vegetable Bouillon cubes bought in France - the ingredients look a deal more wholesome than those on some cubes sold here.More recently I?ve discovered the excellent Marigold vegetable stock powder so beloved of Nigella Lawson. You could add some white or rosé wine, too, for a special celebratory version…

I recently served some drained vegetables from a pan of Ribollita as a garnish for roast pork, using some of the strained soup as a base for the gravy. The result went down very well with my mother, who was delighted that her old cookbook had turned up trumps. Afterwards, the left-over gravy (enriched with the scrapings from the roasting tin) went back in the soup.

For the same batch, I replaced the tomato puree with the last leftovers of a batch of thick tomato pasta sauce I?d made earlier in the week - good move.

For me, one clove of garlic is totally lost in this rich soup. The last batch I made contained six. If you?re not a habitual garlic user, start with one. If you are, follow your instincts.

 One final tip... If you are keeping a batch of this soup to eat through the week, don?t reheat the whole batch every time you want some - the cabbage will get soggy and unpleasant. Warm just what you need in a small pan, or - better - ladle the soup into the bowls cold and heat as quickly as possible in the microwave.

Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.