Crank up the crock pot or stick that stock pot on the stove. “Baby, it’s cold outside.”
On a frigid day, only a few foods can be enjoyed while snuggled up in a blankie. Soups top this short list.
This quintessential winter comfort food can actually bring a rosy blush of contentment to your cheeks.
Soup may not be the first dish that comes to mind when we think of Italian or French foods. If we do think about Italian soup, the list typically begins and ends with minestrone. Our French soup repertoire may be limited to onion.
Traditionally, family meals in Italy and France begin with a simmering hearty soup, especially in winter months. Soups are an important part of menu planning because the ingredients allow the home chef to make the most of leftovers.
Our Italian and French counterparts don’t like to throw anything away that can be creatively revisited. Making a soup can save you an extra trip to the market on a rainy day because you are set free to be spontaneous and use whatever you have left in the fridge.
It’s pretty simple, really. The keys to a great soup are really just a good broth and slow cooking to allow all the flavors to be extracted from meat and bones if making a meat broth. If you opt to purchase your broth base, I encourage you to spend just a little extra to make sure you bring home a quality broth stock. I would not go generic here.
One of the things we often toss out is crusty bread that is not same day fresh any longer. Hang onto that bread, it’s going to come in handy in a couple of the following recipes for la minestra, Italian for soup. Soup in French? Le potage.
Ribollita is a famed Tuscan soup created from bread and inexpensive vegetables. It helps to have cannellini beans. My last ribollita consisted of water, carrots, cabbage, chard, tomatoes, onions, and cannellini beans. My next version will be different because I’m only using whatever veggies I have left in the fridge. Don’t have any tomatoes for the pot? Get that hint of tomatoey goodness by adding in some canned tomato, tomato paste or tomato sauce.
This recipe is actually leftovers of leftovers. First, I’d created a hearty vegetable soup with beans. Day I recipe. Day II recipe, add the old bread and actually bake the soup adding just a little fresh grated cheese. This is when it actually become “ribollita,” which means reboiled. This Italian peasant recipe dates to the Middle Ages.
If you are shopping from scratch for your vegetable soup and not using leftovers, the recipe below creates a terrific flavor blend.
Italian Vegetable Soup and Ribollita
Serves 10- 12
8 cups canned cannellini beans—slightly pureed
1 head green leaf cabbage
1/2 head savoy cabbage
1 bunch Swiss chard
3 very ripe tomatoes
2 stalks celery
2 carrots unpeeled
1 large red onion
1 medium leek
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
13 1/3 cups warm water
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 loaf rustic Italian bread (not sourdough or french)
(Save bread for Day No. 2 leftovers)
1 small red onion for day No. 2
1 clove garlic for rub day No. 2
Note that on cabbage choices you can substitute 2 or 3 cabbages from your personal favorites, but no red cabbage.
Thinly slice cabbages. Coarsely chop Swiss chard. Saute cabbage in heated olive oil until tender. Add chopped Swiss chard and thyme about halfway through the saute process. Add warm water.
Coarsely chop carrots, celery, onion, leek and tomatoes. Add to soup. Add garlic cloves.
Simmer and reduce for 1 hour.
Add pureed beans. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
This completes the recipe for the classic vegetable soup.
It becomes “Ribollita” the next day by doing the following:
Slice day-old bread into 10 or 12 pieces. Rub each slice of bread with garlic.
Butter a large baking dish. Lay slices of bread across bottom of 9-by-13 baking dish, covering the dish completely.
Add a thick layer of leftover soup, another layer of bread and the remainder of the soup.
Thinly slice some red onion on top of the dish, add salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle moderately with freshly grated Parmesan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes.
For a little twist, swirl a hint of pesto on top.
(Tomato Bread Soup)
11 oz. crusty Italian bread—minimum 1 day old
2¼ cups very ripe fresh tomatoes or same amount canned imported San Marzano tomatoes (best canned tomatoes ever)
1 medium leek
10-12 leaves of fresh basil
1 small chili pepper
4½ cups vegetable stock
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt pepper to taste
If using fresh tomatoes, make sure they are very ripe and squeeze easily in your hand. If using canned tomatoes, be sure to save the juice in the can when you remove tomatoes to squeeze in your hands.
Note: I prefer canned tomatoes for this recipe.
Finely mince chili pepper. Chop fresh basil and white portion leek.
Heat olive oil in soup pot and add minced peppers, chopped basil and leek. Saute until pepper and leek are slightly softened.
Squeeze tomatoes in your hand and through your fingers into the pot. Simmer and reduce.
Add canned tomato juice and stock. Continue reduction.
After 20 minutes break bread by hand and drop into soup. Using a handheld whisk, whisk pieces of bread into the soup until no large pieces of bread remain. Add more broth or hot water if you need to thin the soup. Salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish each serving with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Traditional French Vegetable Soup
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 large turnip or rutabaga, double peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large parsnip, double peeled and cut into large chunks
2 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only, well rinsed and thinly sliced
4 to 5 medium-sized carrots peeled, cut into large chunks
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, cut into large chunks
1-2 small garlic cloves, smashed but left whole
1 bouquet garni (made with 2 dried bay leaves, a few sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley, thyme and either sage, basil, or cilantro) — tied together with a piece of kitchen twine
1 to 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. sea salt
Fresh spring water to cover the vegetables
Freshly ground black pepper
In large heavy stockpot, add all chopped vegetables, garlic, bouquet garni, olive oil and salt. Cover with at least twice as much water as there are vegetables.
Bring to a boil and simmer, half covered, until vegetables are very tender, and the broth has become slightly opaque, about 1 to 1½ hours (the longer the soup simmers the more flavorful the broth). Remove the bouquet garni and discard. Add pepper to taste.
Ladle into bowls and drizzle with a little extra olive oil if desired (my suggestion).
The soup will keep well — covered — in the refrigerator and is even better the next day.
Note: Rutabaga, turnip and parsnips require a second peeling in preparation because their deep skin is like a second skin that can cause these root vegetable to be tough.
This soup can also be pureed with a hand-held whisk for a creamier version. My favorite style.