what’s in a name?

white bean & black cabbage soup

A few weeks ago I was talking with some friends about restaurant menus and the increasing trend for each dish to have an essay attached to it. Apart from the extra time required to actually read the menu, we concluded that it’s great that there’s more information being exchanged on the restaurant front. The more people know about what they are eating and where it comes from can only help to make us punters more discerning diners. And this in turn can only increase the standards we demand from our restaurants which can only be healthy for our food scene.

Another real benefit is in giving our regional and local producers a heap more recognition and exposure. More and more we’re seeing King Island, Barossa Valley, Margaret River on our menus and with the addition of names like Bangalow pork and Glenloth chicken it’s great to see these businesses being supported.

But there is a downside. To my mind we’re missing out on the fun and personal touches that an imaginatively named dish can bring. A quick look at the stonesoup recipe index shows yours truly to be guilty as charged: all very prescriptively named dishes there.

Thankfully, there are people out there still having a bit of fun with their recipe names. Thomas Keller at the French Laundry has a dish of tapioca, caviar and oysters that he christened ‘Oysters  & Pearls’. And then we have the creative Molly over at Orangette with her ‘Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Cake’ and ‘Far-From-Disaster Cake’, both of which I really need to try out. Melissa at The Traveler’s Lunchbox has her ‘Dragons Breath Caesar Salad’ and Matt at Matt Bites has his ‘Chow Chow Salami Spread’, all good examples of the naming creativity of the blogging community.

Family names for recipes can also be an interesting evolution. The photographically gifted L over at Cook & Eat has a lovely story of a family cookbook she recently rediscovered that has an enigmatically named ‘Bee Cheese’ which has plenty to do with cheese but no obvious link to any potentially stinging insects.

In my own family we have the notorious ‘Yuck’. When I was growing up my mum used to make a dish of braised lamb chops which she fortunately made very infrequently. When it was on the menu and one of us kids would ask ‘what’s for dinner?‘, Mum’s answer of braised chops would invariably and ungratefully illicit a response of ‘yuck‘ and well, somehow it stuck.

Then there are the traditional or historical names, like Osso Buco or Peaches Melba. Which brings us to this weeks recipe: my version of the famous Tuscan black cabbage and white bean soup, also known as Ribollita.

Cookbooks invariably preface their recipe for Ribollita with the explanation that Ribollita translates as ‘reboiled’ and that the soup is traditionally made from leftover minestrone. I’ve often found it funny how they then proceed to list out the details of making the soup from scratch without a trace of minestrone. Which is why I’ve decided to stick with the generic labelling for my soup. But please don’t think that this simply named soup is any less hearty or satisfying. Far from it. This is a real meal-in-a-bowl, a nourishing combo of iron rich cavolo nero and protein filled beans, thickened with stale bread that takes on a lovely silky texture as it soaks up the broth….bring on Winter….all good things.

a simple soup supper
white bean & black cabbage soup
fresh dates with blue cheese

white bean & black cabbage soup
serves 6-8
Inspired by Jamie Oliver’s favourite Ribollita published in Jamie’s Italy.

Cavolo nero, or Tuscan black cabbage is one of my favourite winter greens. It’s becoming increasingly more available in Australia, I even found some for sale last year in the Woolworths supermarket in the remote town of Katherine in the NT. I haven’t tried this soup with other options but see the note below if you do have problems getting your hands on the real deal.

Like most good soups, this one improves with age and lends itself to reboiling so feel free to make a big batch and freeze for later.

If you decide to substitute in canned beans, don’t use the canning solution. Rinse the beans well and use chicken or vegetable stock in place of the bean cooking liquid.

300g (1 1/2C) white beans – navy, cannellini or borlotti soaked overnight in cold water
1 medium tomato, halved
1 small potato, halved
3 sprigs thyme
1 head garlic
2 red onions peeled & finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1t fennel seeds
400g tin tomatoes
500mL (2C) chicken stock
400g cavolo nero** roughly cut into 1cm wide ribbons
150g stale rustic bread (I used sourdough), torn into chunks
extra virgin olive oil, to serve
parmesan cheese, to serve

Drain soaked beans and place in a large saucepan with the tomato, potato and thyme. Cover generously with cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the beans are cooked through and soft. This can take anywhere from 45mins to 1.5 hours. Drain beans reserving the cooking liquid and discarding tomato, potato and thyme.

While the beans are cooking, preheat oven to 180C and wrap head of garlic in foil. Roast for 25mins or until the garlic is  super soft and mushy. Allow to cool then squeeze flesh out from each clove.

In another large saucepan, heat oil over a medium low heat and add onion, carrot, celery, chopped garlic and fennel seeds. Cover and cook stirring occasionally for approx 25mins or until vegetables are very soft and sweet but not browned. Add tomatoes and bring to a simmer, stirring to break up the tomatoes.

Add stock and 1.25L (5C) of the reserved bean cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. If you don’t have enough cooking liquid top up with water. Stir through cavolo nero, drained beans, roasted garlic and bread and season well.  Simmer, stirring periodically, for at least half an hour or until the bread texture is silky smooth and the soup is thick but not dry. If too dry moisten with extra cooking liquid or water.

Divide between warmed soup bowls and drizzle with a generous glug of your very best grassy extra virgin olive oil. Serve hot with cheese for grating passed separately.

**Note: Cavolo nero is also known as Tuscan black cabbage. 400g is about equivalent to the leaves from 2 large bunches of silverbeet. I’ve seen ribollita recipes that call for kale, red cabbage, silverbeet or even English spinach as substitutes for cavolo nero so feel free to experiment and let me know how you get on.

fresh dates with blue cheese
This simple and quick snack is a great way to finish a meal. Part cheese course, part dessert it ticks all the boxes.

It previously performed on the pages of stonesoup as the finale to a vaguely Moroccan sunday dinner. For the recipe click HERE.

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