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Thursday, May 9, 2013

We Peasants Dine Well And Cheaply

L'amore della mia vita and I have been "doing" Italian quite a bit lately. Between dining out and cooking at home, we have been exploring a few of the many facets of Italian gastronomy. I must state without reservation that the facets of Italian cookery are many. A lot depends on what part of the country in which you are dining.

Around Tampa your choices for Italian food range from spaghetti and meatballs to more exotic dishes that I am not sure the Italians would ever had thought of or even considered. That's not to say the food isn't good, but we Americans tend to taste foods differently than those from other lands. We also tend to believe the more expensive the meal, the better it tastes. "Because it's hard for people to gauge quality by flavor, they tend to gauge it by price." (Mary Roach, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, page 29)

As the Chef de Cuisine of the Ballast Point kitchen, I have been experimenting of late with recipes that are more authentic than a person can usually find in the Bay area. A great source has been David Rocco on the Cooking Channel. Rocco has featured some of his favorite Tuscan recipes and recipes that are considered staples in many Fiorintini (people from Florence) homes. Some of these recipes go back hundreds of years.

Just recently David prepared a La Ribolitta. Ribollita is a famous Tuscan soup, a hearty potage made with bread and vegetables. The name literally means "reboiled". Like most Tuscan cuisine, the soup has peasant origins. It was originally made by reboiling the leftover soup from the previous day. Some sources date it back to the Middle Ages, when the servants gathered up food-soaked bread from feudal lords' banquets and added it to their own dinners.

This was a simple recipe that sounded intriguing and practical since I already had most of the required ingredients. I say "most" because there were several items that I didn't have and have never seen in local grocery stores. The local Publix, to my knowledge, has never carried black cabbage (a type of kale), and I have not seen barlotti beans. So, to do this recipe, I had to make a few substitutions to match what I had on hand or was readily available. David's unadulterated version may be viewed by clicking HERE.

Here then is my SOG City version of La Ribolitta:

Ingredients and quantities are in bold type.

I poured one cup of a good quality olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. EVOO is not necessary and would be somewhat of an over-kill. When the oil started shimmering I added a cup of chopped onion, a large chopped garlic clove, a large chopped carrot from the garden, and a large stalk of chopped celery. The veggies can be coarsely chopped and you will cook them until they become soft.


From the backyard garden I harvested one small head of cabbage and one small head of cauliflower. David said I could use whatever I had on hand and since I didn't have a black cabbage I used the cauliflower. I thinly sliced the cabbage and cut the cauliflower into quarter sized florets.

I also peeled and coarsely chopped a potato (I think it came from Idaho). I tossed all of the veg into the pot and gently stirred.


Next to hit the pot was a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes (Publix brand), followed by a 14.5 ounce can of cannellini beans (I prefer Goya). Again, a gentle stir, then I poured in 4 cups of a savory rotisserie chicken stock. You could make this a completely vegetarian dish by using vegetable broth. Persoanally, I like the extra depth of flavor from the chicken stock.
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Crank up the heat, and while the pot is coming to a boil take that half loaf of Tuscan garlic bread that has been sitting around getting stale and cut it into 6 thick (3/4 inch) slices. You could use Italian bread, Cuban bread, or a French baguette. Whatever you have would probably do just fine. Toss the bread into the pot and stir well.

You will continue cooking over medium heat for another 45 minutes. Stir once in awhile, and if the pot is getting too dry, add some more stock. The consistency, said David, should be similar to a porridge. Toward the end of the cooking time season the pot with salt and pepper to suit your taste.

Ladle into serving bowls and dine like a Tuscan peasant. David also said you could drizzle a little more olive oil in each dish, but I thought that would be too much. A little grated Parmesan sprinkled on top wouldn't hurt though.

That La Ribolitta was spectacular, and it's even better today.

I am not getting comped by Publix, Cooking Channel, or the makers of the products listed. I have simply had good results when using these products or services.

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