Some dishes qualify as comfort food because they bring back personal memories, like the double-crust pie your mom would make after the family’s annual apple picking outing, or the butterscotch candies your grandma always carried in her pocketbook. Others, like this hearty Tuscan stew, satisfy in a way that touches everyone who eats it, no previous experience necessary. It is a bowl of goodness that fills you up, warms your belly and provides a perfect antidote to a chilly night. You can also take comfort in knowing it is easy to make and incredibly healthful, as well.
Ribollita, which means “re-boiled” in Italian, is quintessential peasant food, a homey stew of vegetables, beans and bread born from the need to use up leftovers by simmering them together to make a new and different meal. That makes it amenable to all kinds of variations, depending on what ingredients you have at home. Feel free to swap the type of beans (chickpeas work especially well), or toss in some chopped broccoli, green beans or the red pepper half in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer, for example.
In the accompanying recipe, traditional white beans are used, and for an extra measure of creamy richness, half of them are pureed before they are stirred into the pot. There is just enough whole-grain bread to thicken the dish and add heartiness without making it starchy or heavy, and a rainbow of vegetables is built in: carrots, celery, zucchini, tomatoes and ribbons of kale.
Seasoned with fresh rosemary, onions and garlic, and finished with a sprinkle of Parmesan, it’s a meal in a bowl that provides tasty nourishment for body and soul.
6 servings (makes about 12 cups)
MAKE AHEAD: The ribollita can be made in advance, up to the point where the bread is added, and refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Add the bread after the stew has been reheated.
Two 15-ounce cans no-salt-added cannellini or navy beans, drained and rinsed (may substitute 3 cups home-cooked cannellini beans)
4 cups no-salt-added chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into medium dice (1 cup)
1 medium carrot, scrubbed well, cut into medium dice
1 rib celery, cut into medium dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, cut into medium dice
One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, plus their juices, preferably no-salt-added
1 sprig rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Leaves from 1 bunch (12 ounces) kale, any variety
1 cup cubed day-old or lightly toasted whole-grain Italian bread, crusts removed
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
Combine the drained beans from 1 can with 1/2 cup of the broth in a food processor; puree until smooth.
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once it shimmers, add the onion, carrot and celery; cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Stir in the garlic and zucchini; cook for 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes one at a time, crushing them in the pot to break them up as you add them, then pour in their can juices. Add the bean-broth puree, the remaining can of drained beans, the remaining 31/2 cups of broth, the rosemary sprig, salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes (to taste), stirring to combine. Increase the heat to medium-high; once the mixture starts to boil, reduce the heat to low; cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Cut the kale leaves into ribbons or bite-size pieces. Discard the rosemary in the pot, then stir in the kale and increase the heat to medium-high; once the mixture returns to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring as needed.
(At this point, the stew can be cooled, covered and refrigerated or frozen.)
Add the bread cubes; cook for about 15 minutes or until they have mostly dissolved/broken down.
Serve hot, garnished with the cheese.
NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS Per serving 310 calories, 13 g protein, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, carbohydrates 45 g, cholesterol 0 mg, sodium 280 mg, fiber 14 g, sugar 11 g
Recipe tested by Mary-Denise Smith; e-mail questions to email@example.com
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