Ribollita: It's A Stew & Soup All-In-One!

"How many more days are we going to be eating this?" Ah, the familiar refrain from many years ago, of me questioning Gran Fran about the never-ending quantity of our beloved Ribollita.

Literally reboiled, this stew-y soup got us through many a cold evening. Gran Fran started making it when I was in college and the last one I made was very recently, seeing as it goes from 90 degrees to 40 degrees from one day to the next, out here in San Francisco lately.

And so, I am now the proprietor of many plastic lidded containers to friends and family of said soup. I cannot make fewer than 15 servings. No matter how hard I try, how small the pot is that I use, or how many ways to Sunday that I reduce all of the ingredients, I always, always end up with a huge pot of soup. The only saving grace in having gallons of this soup is that I have plenty of friends, vegetarian, vegan or otherwise who seem to never get enough of my Ribollita.

I would gladly eat this hearty soup for every meal, especially since you can alter the flavors just by adding or subtracting herbs, changing the kinds of beans you use or sometimes adding a little red wine. But, the issue here, is not the awesome taste of all the ingredients coming together. No, it's the huge amount of carbs included in the recipe, which of course makes the soup even more tasty. Not only are there beans, pasta and potatoes, but also a good hunk of white or Italian bread.

Remember when only doctors or scientists used the term "carbs"? Sometimes you'd hear about it on the news, but it made no never-mind to me. I just wanted me some good, filling soup, you know? Now, I have to worry about all manner of ingredients and how they come together to create some kind of evil within. It was nice to come home and see Gran Fran working on her soup, without a care in the world about whether or not she might be struck down for combining bread with pasta, let alone then adding potatoes.

Well, all I know is that when I moved out to San Francisco 17 years ago, I had to get some recipes stored up for inexpensive, filling meals. And, if they reminded me of Gran Fran and Joe, then all the better. So it was that the Ribollita became my first foray into large scale cooking for roommates and a revolving cast of characters. At 22, I had no worries about weight or nutrition, but plenty to worry about when it came to cashflow.

I kid you not, for a mere $6.00 a pot, you can easily feed 8 people. And, it's veggie and vegan friendly, so as the new one in the house, it made for a great first meal to be able to cook for the varying diets of my roommates. I recall having Gran Fran on the phone (well before my cell phone made an appearance so of course, the phone had a cord, which flowed from my tiny room through the hall into the kitchen) advising me how to make the tomato paste puree with the herbs, oil and garlic.

All the while, Gran Fran would ask things like "Are you making a nice roast beef to go with it? Or, of course you could serve tofu, but, you know, I don't go in for those sorts of things." I knew then, just as much as I know now, how important it is for us to cook "together". All these years later, we still call each other when we're cooking, going over ingredients, temperatures, serving suggestions.

Enjoy your Ribollita tonight, tomorrow night, the next, and maybe well into next week. Oh, and don't think about the carbs, just the excellent goodness of the soup!!

Serves 8

3 large Idaho or other baking potatoes, peeled, sliced, washed and dried 3 carrots, peeled, washed, diced 1 large onion, minced 5 Tbs. Olive oil Salt and pepper 16 to 18 cups boiling water 1 cup elbow macaroni or other small pasta. 1 package frozen corn 1 package frozen peas 1 can chick peas, drained and well rinsed 1 can pink kidney beans, drained and well rinsed 1 can cannelini beans, drained and well rinsed 2 slices country bread

Seasoning Ingredients: 1 large bunch basil, stems removed, finely minced or 1 ablespoon dried basil 2 T tomato paste 6 T olive oil salt pepper crushed red pepper flakes 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Optional Garnish: Shards of Reggiano Parmigiano or Asiago cheese Additional crushed red pepper flakes

1. Soup: Heat olive oil in a heavy, nonreactive stockpot. Add potatoes, carrots, and onion. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Add bay leaf. Cook vegetables over medium heat, stirring often, until golden. 2. Pour boiling water over vegetables. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir. Reduce heat to medium low. Partially cover pot and simmer soup for 45 minutes 3. Bring soup back to the boil over high heat. Add pasta. Stir. Reduce heat to medium. Cook for 8 minutes or until pasta is almost cooked. 4. Add corn, peas, chick peas, cannelini, and kidney beans. Stir and cook for about12 minutes over medium heat or until corn and peas are cooked and beans are hot. 5. Break bread into very fine pieces bread .Crumble into soup. Stir, incorporating bread bits into soup by pressing them against the side of the pot. Remove soup form stove. 6. Seasoning: In a small bowl, combine tomato paste, olive oil, basil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and garlic. Fold seasoning mixture into soup. 7. Serve soup, with grated cheese if desired