Despite the fact that it has been unseasonably warm in 2012, February is still the time of year for comfort food, and we're making soup. Rugged, simple and full of flavor.
Because of its white bean base, this recipe is reminiscent of a traditional Tuscan bread-based soup called ribollita. Ribollita is Italian for "reboiled." Traditionally, the soup was made by reheating leftover minestrone soup from the day before, and thickening the mixture by adding vegetables and bread.
This soup is hard to mess up. Incorporate whatever's leftover. Every family's ribollita is different, and the same family makes it differently every time. Easily double quantities for a dinner party or save some in the freezer for a week.
> Broccoli and White Bean Soup
1 pound fresh broccoli
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Spanish onions, chopped into 1/4 -inch dice
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
5 fresh garlic cloves: 2 thinly sliced, 3 halved
1 3-inch piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
2 (16-ounce) cans cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and well drained
10 hand-cut slices of crusty whole-grain bread, toasted
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Remove and discard the tough end from broccoli stems, and coarsely chop the broccoli. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and the sliced garlic, and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the broccoli and 1 tablespoon of sea salt, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 6 cups hot water and the cheese rind. Raise the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove cheese rind, cut it into 1/4 -inch cubes, and set them aside. Transfer the soup, in small batches, to a blender or food processor, cover tightly and blend until smooth. Return soup to the Dutch oven and add the cheese rind pieces. Season to taste with salt, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the beans; simmer for another 10 minutes.
Rub both sides of the toasted bread with the cut sides of the halved garlic cloves. Tear the toasts into bite-sized pieces, and divide them evenly among warmed soup bowls. Ladle the soup over the toast pieces in each bowl. Top each serving with grated Parmigiano, and serve. Serves 8 to 10 as a first course.