Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Turning Leftovers Into a Comfort Dish

‘Tis the season for cooking, eating large, and holiday parties. We went through 10 pounds of potatoes this past weekend for Hanukah latkes, (my favorite recipe is Joan Nathan’s crispy potato pancake). The eaters of all ages declared them delicious, but still, I felt like I was bathed in oil by the end of the frying session. So when Sunday dinner rolled around, I was looking for an antidote to the latke, something quick and slightly more healthy.

Enter ribollita, a hearty Italian vegetable soup eaten over torn pieces of stale bread. I find ribollita incredibly satisfying in the colder months, and a fantastic way to both eat your vegetables and clean out the bits of leftovers in the fridge. I treat it more like a concept than a recipe, and it tastes different every time. You can use more or less of your favorite veggies, or replace the veggies with something you like more (or happen to have on hand). Red wine, beef broth, and more tomatoes makes for a heartier soup, while white wine and chicken broth makes for lighter fare. This last time I made it, I didn’t have fennel but I had leftover chicken meat in the fridge, which I added with great results. Ribollita is a blank canvas, so paint away.

My Ribollita
Serves 4 (with some leftover for one or two lunches)

4 slices of bacon or pancetta, sliced into ½ inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled
3 celery stalks
1-2 onions
2 cloves garlic
½ head cabbage (or 1 bunch kale or Swiss chard)
1 potato (optional)
1 fennel bulb (optional)
3-4 cups broth (chicken or beef)
1/2-1 cup wine (red or white)
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (or fire roasted)
1 14.5 oz. can cannellini beans
1 cup cut up chicken (very optional)
2 t. oregano
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary
4 thick slices of good bread
salt and pepper to taste
Finishers: balsamic dressing, olive oil, and/or parmesan

Using a large soup pot or Dutch oven, cook bacon on medium heat until browned, 5-6 minutes. While bacon is cooking, cut carrots, celery, onion cabbage and optional vegetables into bite sized pieces. When bacon is browned, add all vegetables and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Mince garlic and add it to the pot, cooking and stirring one minute more.

Add broth, wine, tomatoes and spices to the pot. If the vegetables are not covered by liquid, add more broth/wine until they are covered. Cover pot and simmer gently until veggies are cooked through but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Add beans and cook a few minutes more. Taste for salt and pepper and add to taste. At this point the soup can be held until it is time to eat.

Toast bread until golden but not browned. Rip one piece of toast into each bowl, then ladle soup on top of the bread. Finish with grated parmesan, a splash of balsamic and extra virgin olive oil. Eat immediately!