Ribollita

It looks like the last few posts have all been filled with warm bowls of comforting food. It’s the time of year for hot soups and stews. So, here’s another favorite. Ribollita is a Tuscan soup made of seasonal beans and vegetables. It gets some of that delicious umami flavor from the cooked down parmigiano reggiano rinds and pancetta, not to mention the homemade chicken broth (see the post on liquid gold). Though, of course, it can also be made vegetarian or vegan by substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth and omitting the pancetta and cheese.

Ribollita ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of dried cannellini beans (if you can get fresh ones, even better!), cooked
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, diced
  • 3-4 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4oz of pancetta tesa, cut into small pieces
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3-4 pieces of leftover rinds from parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 2-3 cups of diced tomatoes (from a jar works just as well, if tomatoes aren’t in season)
  • 3-4 cups of homemade chicken broth
  • 1-2 sweet peppers (these are corno di toro), cleaned and chopped
  • a few handfuls of romano beans (you can use any type of green bean), cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 1 large bunch of kale, chopped
  • a few handfuls of baby chard (or a small bunch of regular chard)
  • small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • sea salt
  • cayenne pepper
  • white pepper
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • grated parmigiano reggiano cheese (optional)
  • dry or toasted bread (optional)

You’ll want to plan ahead when making ribollita, especially if you’re using dried beans. Sort your dried beans to make sure there aren’t any rocks or unappealing beans in the bag you’re using. Rinse them thoroughly and soak them overnight or at least 8-10 hours in cold water. If you’re keeping them much longer than 12 hours before cooking, you’ll want to refrigerate them. When you return to the pot after letting them soak, you’ll notice that they will have soaked up a fair amount of water and have grown in volume.

Drain the beans and put them in a large pot with a couple inches of water cover. Bring the pot to a boil. When you notice the foamy substance rise to the surface, drain and rinse the beans and rinse the pot. Replace the beans in the pot and cover again with fresh water, a couple inches above the level of the beans. Bring the pot back up to a simmer and cook for at least an hour.

While the beans cook, prep your vegetables and other ingredients. Keep them separate so that you can add them in order of slowest cooking to quickest cooking. Begin by adding a little olive oil to a large soup pot and sweat the onions until just translucent. One by one, add the garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, and pancetta. After these start to cook a bit, add the peppers. Around this time, the beans should be almost ready to add to the pot too. Add them with their cooking liquid. Also add the parmigiano reggiano rinds, bay leaves, diced tomatoes, and chicken broth. Let this simmer for at least another 20 minutes before adding the kale, chard, romano (or other green) beans, and parsley. Season with sea salt, cayenne pepper, and white pepper. Cook for another 20-30 minutes.

Though delicious right off the stove, the ribollita is even better the next day. The name ribollita actually means reboiled and this soup benefits from bringing it up to a boil again when you reheat it. I also suggest letting it cool so it’s just warmer than warm (not hot) when you eat it. Many people enjoy putting some pieces of day old bread or toasted bread in the soup when serving. I like it both ways (pictured without bread). If you like, also sprinkle some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano on top.

ribollita on table

Romanian Eggplant Salad

I guess you could say that I come from a long line of eggplant-loving women. My mother and grandmother both made delicious eggplant salad. They served it a little bit differently. You can decide for yourself if you prefer the tomatoes and onions mixed in, like Grandma used to make (I do!). Traditionally, I think they are generally served separately, the way my mother plated it at home. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Ingredients, yields 4+ servings

  • 2 large eggplants
  • 3/4 cup of olive oil (I don’t measure, just pour until it looks and tastes right but I’d estimate at least half a cup in the mixture plus a little to coat the eggplants at the beginning and for the tomato/onion salad)
  • a few large pinches of salt (again, until it tastes right)
  • a sprinkle of cayenne pepper
  • 2 pints of juicy cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small onion

Start with some fresh eggplant. You want to look for eggplant that still has a vivid green stem and shiny black skin. The fresher you can get it, the sweeter and less bitter it will taste. We got some lovely Black Beauty variety eggplant from a local farm, through Good Eggs.

eggplants

After washing them, prick all over with a fork and coat with olive oil. Place them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, for easier cleanup.

eggplant ready to bake

Roast at 400°F for about 45 minutes or until a knife slides easily into the soft flesh of the eggplant everywhere, including just under the stem area (usually the toughest part and slowest to cook through).

baked eggplant

After removing the eggplant from the oven, cut it open carefully and locate the seed pods. I like to use a fork and knife because the eggplant liquid irritates my skin. This part requires a little patience. You’ll want to take out just the flesh and discard all of the seed sections and skin. It’s okay if a few seeds wander in but you’ll want to get rid of most of them.

open eggplant

In order to drain away the bitter liquid from the cooked eggplant before preparing the salad, find a way to set up a slanted surface in your kitchen. I find that a baking pan, cutting board, and glass create just the right angle to let the juices slowly drip out of the eggplant and onto the absorbent paper towel at the bottom of the cutting board.

on board side

Lay the pieces of eggplant, from which you removed the seeds, in a thin layer across the slanted cutting board and let them drain for an hour or so.

on board front

Once you’re ready to get back to the drained eggplant, lightly blot the pieces with a paper towel to remove any moisture still left, and place them on a cutting board. Then chop and chop and chop some more. You’ll want to go in different directions. It’s fairly easy to do because the texture is so soft. The consistency comes out much better this way than with a food processor or blender. Plus, at the end, you’ll just have to wash the cutting board and knife.

ready to chopchop

 

and chop more

chopped

 

Once the eggplant starts getting a smooth texture add chopped garlic, oil, salt, and cayenne pepper. Chop and mix until thoroughly combined on the cutting board.

garlic

oil

 

After your eggplant salad is done, you can store it in a bowl until ready to use. It’s best eaten at room temperature. So, if you’re planning on refrigerating it, take it out a little while before serving.

eggplant salad, separate

My mother tended to serve it the traditional way, with fresh bread and  a salad of tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and salt. Its high oil content makes it a decadent vegetable dish. At my grandparents house I’d notice grandma relishing her mixing process. She’d lightly smash the tomatoes to get them to release extra juice into the eggplant salad. I remember grandma taking such pleasure in eating this salad and I think I enjoy it even more because of that memory.

eggplant salad, combined

Shiitake Mushroom, Chive, and Feta Frittata

Another favorite egg breakfast at our house is the veggie frittata. I don’t particularly like baked frittatas (though I do like making egg bakes – more on that another day). A pan and a spatula are really enough, especially if you’re not going for perfect appearance. I’m considering buying a frittata pan (or trying the plate method) to make flipping a little cleaner and easier. Until then, an 8″ or 10″ ceramic nonstick pan (we avoid teflon) works well enough and yields an equally delicious frittata.

Ingredients – serves 2

  • 4 eggs
  • 1-2 tbs crème fraîche (Bellwether Farms makes a great one)
  • enough shiitake mushroom caps to cover the bottom of your pan
  • handful of roughly chopped chives
  • 2 tbs crumbled sheep’s milk feta (our favorite is from Marin Cheese Company)
  • drizzle of olive oil to coat the pan
  • small pinch of sea salt (since the feta is also salty)
  • light sprinkle of cayenne pepper
  • generous sprinkle of turmeric
  • buttered toast of your choice (we like Acme’s Pain au Levain)
  • a few slices of heirloom tomato (optional)
  • a few sprigs of cilantro or parsley (optional)

frittata ingredients

After adding olive oil to your ceramic nonstick pan, place the mushroom caps all in the same direction in the pan (I like to start with their tops down). This helps you know which ones you’ve flipped later on. Cook on medium heat until they begin to soften. Flip all of the mushrooms and cook for a moment longer before adding the egg mixture.

Meanwhile, combine the eggs, crème fraîche, chives, salt, cayenne pepper, and turmeric in a bowl. Beat with a fork or whisk until thoroughly combined and frothy. When the mushroom caps look just about ready, pour this mixture on top and quickly move back the mushroom caps to a relatively even distribution in the pan. At this point, scatter the crumbled feta evenly over the top of the frittata.

raw shiitake

flipped shiitakeadd egg mixtureadd feta

 

Now, the hardest part: wait and don’t touch! Let the frittata set and cook evenly on the bottom. When you see it puff up a little and the edges start to brown ever so slightly, you know it’s time to flip. If, like me, you haven’t yet perfected your egg flip, take the pan over the sink. A little piece of wasted egg is a lot better than having to clean up a mess on the stove. I lift up the entire frittata with a spatula, letting the little bit of extra liquid from the top drip off the sides back into the pan, and then quickly flip the solid part. Don’t worry about cracks or broken pieces, these will mostly close up as the other side cooks.

time to flipflipped

 

After the frittata is cooked and ready, use your spatula to divide it in half. Plate half on each plate with some hot buttered toast, a few slices of heirloom tomatoes, and some sprigs of cilantro (or parsley, if you are cilantro-averse). You can change up the vegetables for many delicious combinations. Shiitake mushrooms and feta cheese are two of our favorite ingredients but you can add other things to them. We like adding spinach, onions, or even squash blossoms when they’re in season. Enjoy!

shiitake mushroom, chive, feta frittata

Fresh Cannellini Bean Salad

Shelling Cannellini Beans

In summer, making beans doesn’t have to require planning the day before and cooking for long periods of time. And, no, I’m not talking about popping open a can. These fresh cannellini beans were easy to prepare and the uses are endless. I decided to use half to make a bean salad and saved the other half for another use (or, since it was so delicious, maybe more of the same) later this week.

I’m a big fan of beans but rarely cook them because they require soaking the night before and then a fairly long cook time on the stove. So, I was very excited to discover that Good Eggs is currently selling fresh cannellini beans from Dirty Girl Produce in Santa Cruz. I quickly signed up for two pounds (comes out to about 2 cups shelled) in this week’s delivery and now wish I had purchased more!

One of my favorite parts of preparing fresh beans (and peas too) is the shelling process. It’s simple and relaxing. In some ways, it reminds me of knitting or other repetitive tasks that can become almost meditative. Sometimes, I shell them while watching TV or chatting on the phone. Other times, it’s a welcome break from screen time and an opportunity for some quiet reflection.

Boil Cannellini Beans

After giving the beans a quick rinse in the colander, set them on the stove, with some water, over medium to medium-high heat to just bring them up to a boil. Once boiling, lower the temperature and simmer them for about 20-30 minutes. Cooking time will vary based on the freshness of the bean (if it’s older, it’ll be drier and take longer) and also on personal preference.

Cooked Cannellini Beans

I tend to like my beans soft and squishy. So, I cook them until I see some of them start to break apart. After straining in a colander, they’re ready to use!

Other Bean Salad Ingredients

While the beans cook, you’ll have more than enough time to prepare the other bean salad ingredients:

  • half of a small red onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, pressed or chopped
  • a small handful of cilantro (basil or parsley work great too), chopped
  • 15-20 “sweet 100” or other small cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • a generous pour of olive oil
  • a few splashes of red wine vinegar
  • a liberal sprinkle of salt
  • cayenne pepper, to taste

and, of course,

  • 1 cup of cooked cannellini beans

I like to stir the beans in with the rest of the ingredients while they’re still hot. I’ve noticed that this helps the flavors combine faster and also helps to mellow the raw garlic and onion flavors. These quantities yield enough for two people enjoying this as a main course or for four, as a side dish. Serve at room temperature with some toasted or grilled ciabatta bread.

Cannellini Bean Salad

Summertime Panzanella

Panzanella

This is our summertime go-to dinner. This time of year, the farmers’ market is teeming with fresh produce, the tomatoes are ripe and oh-so-juicy, and the weather is hot enough that you really don’t want to turn on the stove or oven. Even though we have these salads all the time, my husband basically begs for panzanella anytime he sees tomatoes on the counter. Tonight he said, “it looks really good and it tastes a lot better than it looks.”

Tonight’s panzanella featured heirloom tomatoes, avocado, red onion, cilantro, red radishes, crusty “country” bread from Tartine Bakery, a generous pour of olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt. After mixing these ingredients and letting the bread soak up the juices from the bottom of the bowl, I sprinkled some Point Reyes blue cheese on top.

One of my favorite things about panzanella salad is that you can make it with any combination of fresh produce that suits you. Other ingredients that often appear in my summertime panzanellas are: cucumbers, yellow peppers, raw fennel, scallions, basil, sheep’s milk feta cheese, hard boiled eggs, celery, green garlic, and anything else that appealed to me at the farmers’ market and made its way into my refrigerator or onto my counter.

What might you put in your summertime panzanella?