What a strange winter we’ve had so far! I know, I know…I live in Georgia. “Winter”, in the true sense of the word, doesn’t really exist here. From what I’ve gathered, though, it’s been pretty calm all over. That’s all well and good, but one of my favorite things about chilly winter nights is being able to make a big pot of soup for dinner. Since we haven’t had many cold nights this year, my soup making has hit a bit of an inspiration road block. Then…last weekend happened. Last weekend was MISERABLE! Not snowy, winter weather, but rainy, gray and gross all weekend long. Sunday called for soup. No, it begged for soup. So, I complied.
I decided to try a recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis’ cookbook, Everyday Pasta. Giada has never let me down before, and this soup looked like the hearty warm-up we needed. I set to work.
For those of you who have never heard of Ribollita before, know that it’s a thick, hearty, Tuscan soup. Depending on who makes it, and how thick it is, it could be considered more of a stew. I’ve had numerous versions of Ribollita and none of them were exactly alike, but I’ve enjoyed each and every one. They usually incorporate beans, greens and some sort of root vegetable or another. Traditionally, Ribollita (which means “reboiled”) was made from leftover bean and vegetable soup. The soup was reheated and then stale bread was added to the soup to thicken it up. This recipe didn’t call for bread, though, it called for broken strands of spaghetti. I don’t know about your kids, but I can usually bet my girls will try anything that involves a noodle. I knew this would be a soup that had the potential to make everyone at the table that night a little happier.
I started by breaking up some spaghetti into 1-2 inch long pieces. This didn’t take long at all and, had my girls been available, I probably would have put them to work doing it! Permission to break stuff! Cool! Get those little hands dirty in the kitchen as often as you can. (My mom did, and look at the monster she created!)
Next, I sautéed some diced onion, carrot, garlic and pancetta. Pancetta is Italian bacon and is usually pretty easy to find at the deli of your local supermarket. If you can’t find it, though, I’d think you could substitute a few slices of thick cut, regular bacon.
Once the veggies and pancetta started to brown, I added the beans, spinach, and tomatoes. I also added some chicken broth, a bay leaf, thyme, and rosemary. Giada’s original recipe called for herbes de Provence (a fragrant spice mixture that can consist of rosemary, thyme, savory, fennel, and/or lavender, depending on where you get it), but I didn’t have any and it was so gross outside that I wasn’t about to run all around town to find it. Rosemary and thyme it was, then, and they tasted so good in the finished soup that I wouldn’t change a thing next time, even if I do run across some herbes de Provence!
The other thing Giada suggested was adding a 3 inch piece of Parmesan rind to the soup. I’d seen this before, in other soup recipes, but hadn’t ever done it. This time, I had a block of Parmesan on hand, so I cut off the rind and added it to the pot. The thought is that as the rind boils with the soup, it adds a buttery richness that you just wouldn’t find otherwise. If you’re using good, true Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rind, you should be able to cook the heck out of the rind and then remove it, along with the bay leaf, after the soup has cooked (see the article here for better pictures and explanation!). If, however, you…cough, cough…bought the cheaper store-brand block of Parm and chopped the rind off like…ahem…someone I know, you won’t be able to find the rind in the end, as it has all melted into the soup! Oh well, you never would have known. There weren’t chunks or even strands of cheese floating around in the soup. It was like it just disappeared into thin air. The soup did have a wonderfully buttery note to it and I like to think my pseudo-Parm rind that disappeared was the culprit.
That blustery night, we were able to enjoy a nice, warm, home-cooked, hearty soup that had so much flavor going on, it tasted like something I should have spent all day cooking, instead of just about 30 minutes. The soup was spectacular and deemed “A Keeper” by the jury. And, as expected, the kids loved finding the noodles as they slurped up their dinner.
Our bellies were full, souls were warmed, and that dreary, icky day felt a little bit better by the end.
RIBOLLITA WITH SPAGHETTI
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 small carrots, peeled and chopped
- 4 ounces thick sliced pancetta, chopped (or substitute 4 slices thick-cut bacon)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. pepper
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes, with juice
- 1 (10 oz) box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 (15 oz.) can Great Northern or Cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 tsp. dried rosemary
- 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 inch piece of Parmesan rind
- 1 cup spaghetti, broken into 1-2 inch pieces
- grated Parmesan, for serving
- In a large, heavy soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion, pancetta, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook, about 7-10 minutes, until onion starts to brown and the pancetta starts to crisp up. Add the tomato paste and stir into the vegetable mixture until dissolved. Add the tomatoes and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen up any browned bits on the bottom.
- Add the beans, spinach, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, broth, and Parmesan rind. Bring the soup to a boil, add the spaghetti pieces, and simmer for 10 minutes until the pasta is al dente.
- Discard the Parmesan rind (if you can find it! HA!) and bay leaf. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with fresh, grated Parmesan cheese.
- Serves 4-6