Ramblings..., Recipes, Reviews, Soupy

Hugh’s Ribollita – recipe and review

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Ribollita – the perfect winter supper

I was tempted to call this post ‘Possibly the best soup ever’ simply because it gives me so much joy every time I eat it. One of the many wonderful things about this recipe is that, unlike many so-called ‘meal’ soups, this really does fill you up in a truly satisfying way. No jokes – it really does. It is also perfect for cold nights and for when you need to make a change from seasonal excesses.

The first time I encountered a ribollita (Italian for ‘re-boiled’) was in an early episode of the ‘River Cottage’ series in which the ever dependable Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall created a version that he dubbed ‘Half-the-garden Soup’. It certainly did contain a fair heft of veg and I was slightly disappointed not to find a recipe for it in the original (and excellent) ‘River Cottage Cookbook’. The version that eventually appeared in the (also excellent) ‘River Cottage: Veg Everyday’ cookbook was splendid and tasty but for some reason didn’t quite fulfil the warming, wholesome temptation that the original TV series seemed to offer. No matter, there were many other ‘hefty’ soups in the book and I was soon distracted and not musing too much on the lack of ribollita in my life.

However, the thought of a filling, simple, delicious vegetable soup that delivered a bit more punch than usual kept coming back to me. So I turned to the internet to see if any variations existed and lo and behold, Hugh himself provided the answer! One of his weekly columns for The Guardian was based around tinned ingredients and, much to my delight, the first recipe he offered was for a ribollita. Joy! And so, on a cold autumn night, I gave it a go and the results were, well, more than stupendous.

Seriously – this soup is something else.

So excited was I by the success of the ribollita that I made it again the following week.

And again a few days later.

And I made it for dinner last night.

And we’ve got more for dinner tonight.

Huzzah!

I’ve tried to work out what makes this recipe superior to the version in the book and the only thing I can really spot is the addition of wine. Wine generally makes things better in my book and you’d have thought that perhaps 100ml wouldn’t make much difference but believe me, it is the difference! The other elements that really help this soup pack a serious punch are the slow cooking of the onions (15 minutes) and then the simmer of the whole soup (about an hour). This may seem like a bit of a faff time-wise but I implore you to be patient and go with it – I’ve tried doing a faster version and it just doesn’t satisfy.

You could use the time to drink more wine for example.

The only I’ve changed from the original recipe it the amount of olive oil used to soften the veg – I find that 2tbsp is more than enough – but use however much or little as you please. Again, the oil is a key part of the flavour so don’t leave it out entirely as you will miss it. The soup does taste better when left overnight but you might need to add more stock as the liquid does tend to get absorbed by the veg.

The recipe states it will serve six to eight people however, we are greedy and find really we only get four big portions from this quantity!

SOUP!!!!

Ingredients

  • 2tbsp olive oil, plus extra for the bread
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 leek trimmed and finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 100ml red wine
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes 
  • 400g tin cannellini beans (or whichever you prefer)
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1 small sprig rosemary and 2-3 small thyme sprigs, tied together
  • 200g kale, cavolo nero, or Savoy cabbage, tough stalks removed, leaves shredded
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 slices slightly stale white bread
  • 1 garlic clove, halved

Method

In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil and sauté the onions over a medium-low heat. Cook them for a good 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and glistening.

Add the carrots, celery and leek, and cook for a further five minutes, stirring and then add the garlic and stir for another minute.

Pour in the wine and simmer for a minute – this makes everything SO much better. Add the tomatoes, beans, stock, rosemary and thyme, season and simmer gently, partially covered, for about an hour.

Use this time to drink wine.

Add the greens and cook for 10 minutes more. Remove the herb bundle and season to taste.

Once the soup is done, rub the bread with garlic, brush with oil and toast until golden and delicious.

Put one slice in the base of each bowl, ladle over the soup, and shave over a healthy amount of parmesan. If you like, splash a bit more olive oil over the steamy pile of warming delight and tuck in.

You’re welcome.

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Camping, Soupy

Jim and Rich’s Nettle Soup

I love cooking outdoors. I love rambling about and finding stuff to make a meal with. Where we regularly go camping there are shops nearby and this has certainly helped to expand our repertoire. This is not wilderness cooking by any means (there is also a fridge on the farm we stay at) but there is something very special about creating tasty food whilst surrounded by fields and birds.

The first time I suggested making nettle soup to my long-standing camping companion he wasn’t overtly thrilled with the concept –

‘Why would we want to eat that?’ he said.

‘Well, apparently it’s really nice,’ I replied, ‘and if it’s horrible we can always go to the pub for dinner.’

Settled – nettles or beer. Although nettle beer is excellent…

I’d seen various chefs make it but didn’t have a recipe (nor any phone signal to look one up) so we had to make do with what we had – an onion, a bit of garlic, some water, and a bit of powdered stock I’d brought just in case. We also baked a potato in the campfire to use to thicken it up with (which added a lovely edge of slight smokiness) and I have to say the finished results were pretty fantastic.

The wonderful thing about nettles is surely not only the fact that they are tasty, rich with iron (and therefore very good for you), but the fact that they are FREE!!! They are usually at their best in the spring but can be picked throughout the summer – just make sure you choose the younger, shorter ones.

You need the nettle tops for cooking with and avoid picking near roads or where they might have sprayed (either with chemicals or by passing dogs). The part you are looking to pluck off it the top four or so leaves from the nettles and they come off quite easily but gloves are highly recommended!

You should be able to find a good crop of nettles in any park or green and it doesn’t take too long to gather enough to cook with. Wash them in cold water and wring them out before chopping (again, gloves essential here!) Go on, give it a go – you’ll be amazed at the results!

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

75g (or about half a carrier-bags worth) nettle tops, washed and chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp olive oil (or a good knob of butter)

1 pint (563ml) chicken or vegetable stock

1 medium sized potato, cubed

Salt and pepper

2 tbsp natural yoghurt

½ tsp grated nutmeg (optional)

Method

Add the oil or butter to a saucepan over a medium-low heat and when it is hot, throw in the chopped onion and garlic. Cook gently so as not to colour.

When the onion is soft, stir in the washed, chopped nettle tops and let them sizzle and steam for a minute or so.

Add the stock and cubed potato then turn up the heat to bring the soup to the boil then simmer, covered, for about 15-20 minutes or until the potato is soft.

Remove from the heat and blend to a smooth consistency with either a stick blender or in a food processor.

Return to a low heat and season to taste, adding the nutmeg if you like.

Finally, swirl through the natural yoghurt and serve with crusty bread.

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