Cucina Povera, Tuscan Peasant Cooking by Pamela Sheldon Johns includes recipes like Ribollita (Classic Tuscan Vegetable-Bread Soup); Involtini di Maiale (Pork Rolls Stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach); and Totani Ripieni (Stuffed Squid).
The restaurant Da Delfina in Artimino, just west of Florence, is a reference point for cucina povera. Chef Carlo Cioni understands intimately the relationship between the land and the table. In his hands, a sturdy vegetable soup is transformed into a second dish by layering leftover soup with bread, then into a third dish by baking the leftover layered soup and bread. The fourth and final transformation is ribollita, the remaining vegetable stew cooked in a skillet, a dish that exemplifies the resourcefulness of Tuscan cooks.
Carlo insists it must be made on top of the stove, not in the oven, a version often seen in restaurants. Oil is used sparingly for this is a peasant dish. The ingredients vary according to what is available, but Carlo explains, "There must be a balance between the dolce (sweet), aromatica (aromatic), and amaro (bitter)." The sweet is found in herbs, such as parsley, celery, and purslane; the aromatic is in thyme, borage, and fennel; and the bitter essences come from mustard greens and chicory. A leafy green is always present; in the winter, cavolo nero, and in the summer, cabbage.
Carlo admonishes cooks to handle the beans tenderly and cook them slowly, and "dolcemente," gently, so they are not broken or crushed. He soaks them overnight with aromatics: whole cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, and a sprig of sage. Use any seasonal vegetables in this soup, and cook them in the order of hardness; start with vegetables such as potatoes that take longer to cook, and finish with the tender herbs.
Day 1: Minestra Di Verdura (Vegetable Soup)
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion, carrots, and celery for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the onion is golden. Add the garlic and stock, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the potatoes and zucchini. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the cavolo nero and leafy greens. Decrease the temperature to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the beans and aromatic herbs. Simmer for 10 minutes to heat the beans through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in warmed soup bowls.
Day 2: Minestra Di Pane (Bread Soup)
In a saucepan, warm the leftover soup over medium-low heat. Place very thin slices of country-style bread in the bottom of a lightly oiled baking dish. Spoon one-third of the hot soup over the bread, and repeat with two more layers of bread and soup. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes to 1 hour in a warm place before serving.
Day 3: Minestra Di Pane Al Forno (Baked Bread Soup)
In a preheated 375 degrees F oven, heat the leftover Bread Soup in its baking dish. Sprinkle with chopped onion and drizzle with olive oil. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the onions are lightly browned.
Day 4: Ribollita (Recooked Vegetable Stew)
Lightly brush a medium skillet with olive oil. Spoon the remaining Baked Bread Soup into the pan and brown over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, or until crisp on the bottom. Turn and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes to crisp the second side. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. The ribollita should be firm enough to eat with a fork. Eat at once.
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This page created November 2011
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