This week’s hamper is tailor-made for a delicious summer ribollita: the Tuscan bread soup that exemplifies the very best of cooking: sophistication through simplicity, and ingredients combining to become more than the sum of their parts. This may not be 100% authentic, but it is truly delicious. My first job was in a trattoria in Florence, aged 15 and not even shaving yet, and this was a personal favorite. White beans, in this case borlotti (or Haricot beans "coco de paimpol) form the base of the dish. The cooking liquor from them is absolutely delicious. They do not need to be soaked in advance, unlike dried beans. This is more a guide than a recipe, but you can’t go wrong. Make sure the vegetables are chopped quite small, so they are completely tender. This should be a melding of flavours rather than lots of different identities. Add enough bread to thicken the soup rather than turning it to porridge and use a lot more olive oil than you think. Feel free to add whatever vegetables you wish, but make sure there are some greens for a velvety mouthfeel and some sweet vegetables (tomatoes, carrots, peas etc) are key.
- Place the beans in a pan and cover completely water to come to 5cm over the level of the beans.
- Add 1 carrot (peeled and halved), 1/2 onion (peeled) and 1 stick of celery and simmer for 40 mins – 1hr until just tender. You will need to skim off the froth produced as it cooks.
- Season the cooking liquor lightly (as it will form the base of your soup) and a few sprigs of basil (bruised) and/or thyme. Leave to infuse and cool to room temperature, then remove the herbs and vegetables.
- In a large pan, sweat 1 onion (roughly chopped quite small), 2 celery sticks (sliced across), 2 carrots (peeled, halved and sliced) and 1 small head of fennel (roughly chopped quite small) in about 100ml olive oil. Season lightly and cover with a lid so the vegetables steam and sweat and do not colour. Do this for about 5-10 mins.
- Add the beans and the cooking liquor, and bring to a simmer.
- Simmer for 10 mins until the vegetables are just tender, then add a bunch of cavolo nero (chopped) and 4 ripe tomatoes (chopped). Simmer for another 15 mins until the greens are silky soft.
- In this time, take about 4 slices of bread and rip into chunks. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and toast in the oven until light golden.
- Add the bread to the soup, and cook for another 5 minutes until thickened.
- Remove from the heat and stir in a good amount of olive oil, about 50g, to add a luxurious mouthfeel (the Italian version of “Montee au beurre”!). Allow to cool slightly. It is far more delicious warm than piping hot.
- Serve with some fresh basil ripped on top, a scatter of parmesan and a couple of turns of black pepper.