All I’ve been hearing over the past few days is that we are in for some very nasty, stormy weather from mid-week. Immediately that puts me in the mood for all the wonderful comfort food dishes that make staying indoors when it’s raining and cold outside appealing. So this week, I’ll be posting some of my favorite winter recipes that are guaranteed to make you long for cold days so you have an excuse to put them on your table.
I’ll start with my most recently tested winter dish. This past summer, I was in Italy and got to sample some of the wonderful dishes that Tuscany has to offer. While looking through menus for vegetarian options, I found one dish that I loved – Ribollita. This is a heavy bean-based soup that incorporates all of the wonderful flavors of Tuscany – tomato, celery, carrots, garlic, olive oil – and its twist is in the bread that you add to make this dish beautifully dense and filling. This isn’t a 15-minute prep recipe, but it’s worth the effort as it’s a meal in a bowl. Serve this when the rains set in with a nice chunk of fresh bread on the side, and you will not need to prepare anything else.
I found a really good recipe from Ina Garten on The Food Network, which I adapted to our local Israeli ingredient availability.
500g dried white beans (you can use navy beans – the little white ones, or I used black eyed peas – lubya in Hebrew – and they are great as they are very delicate and soft)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup good olive oil
200g diced Cabanos (this adds wonderful flavor but you can omit if you want to make this a parev dish)
2 large chopped onions
3 chopped carrots
3 stalks celery, chopped
6 cloves of minced garlic
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or hot paprika
1 large can of crushed tomatoes (800g)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
6 cups hot water with 2 tablespoons chicken soup powder
4 cups sourdough bread with the crusts removed and cubed (if you can’t find sourdough, which is available in any bread shop, use the regular dark bread from the supermarket - lechem achid)
How to do it
1. In a large bowl, cover the beans with cold water with at least 2 centimeters covering them and soak overnight in the fridge.
2. Drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the beans are tender. Set the beans aside to cool in their liquid.
3. Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add the cabanos and onions. Cook over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent (about 5 minutes).
4. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes/paprika. Cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender (about for 7 to 10 minutes).
5. Add the whole can of tomatoes and basil and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for another10 minutes.
6. Drain the beans and reserve their cooking liquid.
7. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, add half the cooked beans and puree them with a little of their liquid so they form a soft paste. Add to the pot, along with the rest of the cooked beans.
8. Pour the remaining bean cooking liquid into a large measuring cup and add enough chicken stock to make 8 cups. Add to the soup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
9. Add the bread to the soup and simmer for 10 more minutes. If the bread falls apart, that’s fine. You want it to add body to the dish.
10. Add extra seasoning if required.
This serves 8-10