Blossoms are out, the weather is getting warmer, and I can smell Honey Suckle in the laneways of Elwood... Spring is in the air.
So before the warm weather starts in earnest (don’t get me wrong I’m very much looking forward to it), I would like to write a little bit about soup. There’s something deliciously special about soup – you sauté some onion or leek, throw in whatever you’ve got on hand, cover the whole lot with some stock and walk away. When you return you’ll have a flavoursome, comforting bowl full of dinner, and lunch the next day, and probably the next one as well.
The best soup I’ve ever eaten was the first time I ate Ribollita. I was in Tuscany with my family and we had gone for a drive, and gotten lost, quite spectuacularly lost, so we did what every self respecting person should do in times of despair... stop to eat. And eat we did, at a little roadside restaurant which served up hearty Ribollita and some of the finest hand-rolled Pici pasta this world has ever known.
Ever since that first mouthful of bread and olive enriched minestrone soup I’ve wanted to make my own Ribollita – but I’ve always felt a little silly because the whole point of Ribollita is to use left overs and stale bread and re-boil the whole lot. Also, one of the key ingredients in the soup is cavolo nero, which, until I started my bi-weekly shops at the Queen Vic Market, I had never seen in Melbourne.
The opportunity presented itself to make authentic Ribollita a little while ago when I made some boiled kale for dinner. I must be honest here and say that in my enthusiasm to shovel boiled kale and googy egg into my mouth I got a little lazy and left the left-over kale drowning in the still warm stock in the pot. Once I got around cleaning up the kale had become quite soft, and the stock was really green! The cogs in my brain started turning, and with a quick ingredient check, I knew what I’d be making for dinner the next night – real Ribollita with some left-over soupy kale and stale bread! Woohoo.
While I’m not going to claim it was anything like the soup I ate at that roadside Tuscan restaurant (could anything ever taste as good as it does when it’s eaten in the Tuscan sunshine?!) it was an excellent soup – and the perfect thing to eat when the Melbourne spring-time weather tricks you and turns cold again.
1 brown onion finely diced
2 sticks celery finely diced
1 carrot finely diced
2 cloves garlic minced
¼ cup red wine
5 dried asian mushrooms reconstituted in about ½ cup boiling water and finely chopped
2 cans tomato
About 3 cups leftover cooked cavolo nero and stock
1 can mixed beans (optional)
1 piece parmesan rind (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 spring fresh rosemary (or a tsp of dried)
1 slice of day (or 2 or 3) old bread per person
Half a clove of garlic
Grated parmesan cheese
Heat a glug of olive oil in a big saucepan. Add the onion, celery and carrot and cook slowly until translucent but not browned (about 10 minutes.) Throw in the garlic and cook off for another couple of minutes. Turn up the heat a bit, pour in the wine and cook until it’s almost all evaporated. Throw in the mushrooms and reserve the soaking water. Pop all the other ingredients in the pot, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and let it go like that for about half an hour. Give it a stir every now and then – especially to make sure the parmesan rind hasn’t gotten all melty and stuck to the bottom of the pan.
When the soup is ready, grill one piece of bread per person under the grill or pop them in the toaster. While they’re toasting, remove the bay leaf, rosemary and parmesan rind from the pot. When the bread is toasted and still warm, rub both sides of the bread with a cut clove of garlic. Place a slice of bread in a shallow bowl, give it a seriously generous drizzle of olive oil and then ladle some soup on top.
If you’re me and would like to drink olive oil straight from the bottle, drizzle a bit more on top of the soup and then sprinkle on some parmesan cheese. Enjoy on a wintry spring day.
The other option is to break up the bread into thumb-sized pieces and throw it into the soup too. This makes for a very hearty, thick soup and is probably a good idea if you have left over soup AGAIN and even more stale bread the next day – it’ll change things up a bit and you can pretend you’re eating a whole new dish!