Active Time
1 HR
Total Time
2 HR
Yield
Serves : 6 to 8

I chased the flavor of a proper Tuscan ribollita for 17 years until I ate the genuine article again, finally, at Leonti, chef-owner Adam Leonti’s swanky new Italian restaurant in New York City. Leonti’s deeply savory version of the Tuscan bread and bean porridge was even better than the one I remember from a small hillside restaurant in Siena, Italy, so many years ago. (And that ribollita, which I ate on my first visit to Italy, was so perfect and nourishing that it made me forget for an hour that I was wearing my girlfriend’s puffy sweater because the airline had lost my luggage.) Leonti learned how to make ribollita from a restaurateur from Lunigiana, a three-hour drive northwest of Siena, paying close attention to the porridge’s humble elements: grassy-green, peppery olive oil; earthy, rustic bread; small, thin-skinned white beans; and most importantly, sofrito, the finely chopped, slow-cooked mixture of carrots, onions, and celery that gives ribollita its extraordinary flavor.

At Leonti, sofrito is the foundation of ragù, and of the hot broth served to guests upon arrival—and it’s such a crucial ingredient that his cooks make about 75 quarts of it a week. Leonti used to laboriously chop his sofrito with a knife by using a rocking motion. “Then I watched Eat Drink Man Woman, and the best part is the beginning, with the Chinese chef chopping with big cleavers,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘That’s the move!’”

So, Leonti bought some large cleavers in Chinatown and a wood butcher block and set up a sofrito station in the kitchen, where today his cooks rhythmically chop and break down the whole vegetables into rubble using the same kind of chopping technique I saw a barbecue cook use at Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden, North Carolina, to break down the meat of whole smoked hogs into a fine mince. The size of the mince matters—the smaller the better—Leonti says, because you’re multiplying the surface area of the vegetables by a thousand-fold. More surface area to caramelize in the pan equals more flavor.

When I made Leonti’s ribollita at home in my Birmingham, Alabama, kitchen, I tried the double-cleaver technique but quickly switched to an efficient, two-handled after too many stray bits of onion, carrot, and celery fell to the kitchen floor. I followed his advice and sweated the vegetables in olive oil in a Dutch oven, slowly cooking the mixture, stirring almost as often with a wooden spoon as you would with a roux. After 30 or so minutes, I turned up the heat until I heard that rapid sizzle, signaling that the sofrito was beginning to caramelize, creating a massive amount of flavor. When you build flavor from the bottom of the pot like this, the flavors continue to transform, concentrating even further when you add then reduce aromatic liquids— in Leonti’s case, adding crushed tomatoes and white wine, which cook down to a tomato-wine-sofrito jam full of umami. That flavor base then gets rehydrated with water, then cooks down again with the kale, potatoes, and bread—the latter adds tangy flavor and disintegrates into the soup to add texture. Finally, cooked beans—both whole and pureed—go in, thickening and tightening the soup into a porridge.

Leonti serves many of his courses in gold-rimmed Richard Ginori china to frame his food in the Tuscan context. His food is big city fine dining meets cucina povera, the Italian cooking tradition born of necessity that elevates humble ingredients into dishes fit for a king. I asked him about the restaurant’s tightrope walk between high and low. “What is luxury? Luxury to a few is foie gras or truffles,” he says. “But the ultimate luxury is time and space. Those are the two most expensive things on the planet. Ribollita is such an expense of time. It’s the ultimate luxury.”

Especially when you’ve spent 17 years searching for a proper recipe. —Hunter Lewis

Cook’s note: Decent bread and canned beans work fine here, but if you shop for the best rustic loaf baked with freshly milled flour you can find, and cook your beans in extra sofrito a day ahead—especially white beans sold by—your ribollita will go from good to great.

How to Make It

Step 1    

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-low. When oil shimmers, add onion, carrot, and celery; stir to coat with oil. Stir in salt to help draw out liquid from onions and season the foundation of the soup. Cook, stirring often and scraping bottom of pot with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, reducing heat as necessary to maintain a gentle sizzle, until mixture is very soft and translucent, about 30 minutes. Increase heat to medium; cook, stirring often, until sofrito is caramelized, about 10 minutes.

Step 2    

Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper, if using; cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Stir in crushed tomatoes and wine, and stir, scraping up any browned bits on bottom of pot, until mixture is well combined. Increase heat to maintain a vigorous simmer (be careful of splattering tomato). Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced to a jam-like consistency, about 20 minutes.

Step 3    

Add 8 cups water, bread, kale, and Parmesan rind, if using; stir, scraping bottom of pan to fully incorporate sofrito into liquid. Simmer until kale is tender and bread is dissolved, about 20 minutes. Stir in potatoes, and simmer until partially tender, about 15 minutes.

Step 4    

Meanwhile, puree 1 cup beans with 1 cup tap water or bean cooking liquid (if not using canned). Add bean puree and remaining 3 cups beans, and simmer until beans and potatoes are completely tender but not falling apart, about 25 minutes. Season with about 1 teaspoon more salt, or to taste, and a generous amount of black pepper.

Step 5    

Let soup cool to room temperature; cover and chill up to 3 days. Reheat soup gently before serving, and adjust seasonings as necessary. Divide among bowls, and top each with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve hot.

You May Like

DELICIOUS DEAL

12 ISSUES FOR JUST $12

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Keeping you in the know on all the latest & greatest food and travel news, and other special offers.