Friday, May 18, 2012

Ribollita with Foraged Garlic Mustard

Ribollita is a rich, hearty Tuscan stew made from a variety of vegetables, beans, tomatoes, and decadently served day-old bread, which becomes saturated, breaks down, and adds a thickening agent to the broth. Top all that with a generous helping of grated parmesan, and mmmmmm! Like much Tuscan cuisine, ribollita has its origins in peasant fare, though the exact history is lost.

Warm and filling, this stew lends itself to wintry days, though I found it quite satisfying over the rainy spring afternoons we had last week. There is no set recipe, and I have borrowed from numerous sources, as well as adding my own touches. Classically, ribollita uses kale, specifically dark, purply Tuscan kale; but in this dish, the role of leafy, slightly bitter greens will be played by garlic mustard leaves. Garlic mustard efficiently does double duty here, filling the flavor profile for garlic as well.

Try to use a quality stock, it really makes a huge difference. Ribollita doesn't always use meat, and it is easy to make this dish vegetarian by simply omitting the sausage. If you do, I would probably add another 2-3 extra carrots and celery spears. Likewise, several of the ingredients I used here aren't canon, but each adds a little something, in my opinion. The lemon zest and juice adds a freshness that plays well with the spring flavors of the greens, while the red pepper flakes add a spicy bite if you aren't using hot peppers.

As for the Angostura bitters, my Italian husband swears by their flavor-enhancing properties in pasta fagioli, and he makes the best I know. I tend to add it to anything that uses beans and tomatoes--and--so far, I have yet to be disappointed. If you have yet to experiment with bitters in the kitchen, now might be a great time to start.

5 cups lightly packed garlic mustard leaves, rinsed and roughly chopped
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, homemade or quality store bought
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 15oz cans cannellini beans (also called navy or white kidney), rinsed thoroughly
3 hot or sweet Italian sausages, casings removed and crumbled (optional)
2 cups sliced carrots (about 5 medium)
2 cups chopped celery (about 4 spears)
1 Spanish onion, diced
2 Dried bay leaves
1/2 cup of white wine
1 Glug of olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon (optional)
1 tbsp. aromatic bitters (optional, I used the classic Angostura brand here)
1 tps. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Day old multigrain bread (or bread of your choice), for serving
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

  1. In an 8 quart stockpot, heat 4 cups of water to boiling. Add garlic mustard leaves and boil for one full minute. Drain.
  2. In the same pot, heat olive oil. Add sausage crumbles and cook through till no longer pink, stirring frequently.
  3. Add chopped celery, sliced carrots, diced onion and lemon zest, cook until softened, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add stock, crushed tomatoes, white wine, lemon juice, bay leaves, bitters and red pepper flakes (if using). Add in the blanched garlic mustard and the rinsed beans. Stir everything thoroughly. 
  5. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally
  6. To serve, crumble bread in the bottom of individual bowls and spoon stew over. Top with Parmesan cheese, and gently mix the soaked bread and cheese into the stew before eating. The leftovers heat up very nicely over the next couple of days.

Serves 8-10
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

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