wild turtle crossing

slow: writer at play

Vivian Henoch

Vivian Henoch
Northville, Michigan, USA
June 17
Writer and editor:myJewishDetroit.org
I write around. Follow me on Twitter @vivianhenoch or @myJDetroit


MARCH 27, 2011 7:39PM

Spring? On the Back Burner in Michigan

Rate: 5 Flag
Spring fever?  Not until it warms up here in Michigan.  It’s been unseasonably, if not unspeakably cold here, with temperatures barely climbing out of the 20’s.  In search of signs of life in the garden, I take  (brisk!) walks around the flower beds, only to find evidence of deer and rabbits having a field day nibbling the tender buds of  my crocuses and hyacinths.  Under the winter-worn brambles of the blackberry bushes,  one lonely blossom... so sad and brave out there.  
Awaiting Spring, there’s always the market where hope springs.  Eternal.  Here asparagus stalks.   Rhubarb abounds.  And strawberries are always in season. 
Now according to the Epicurious Seasonal Ingredient Map, cabbage and broccoli are the go-to produce of Michigan in the month of March. (?)  According to the Michigan Produce Availability Calendar, we’re still in cold crop mode with the offerings of evergreens, mushrooms, onions and potatoes.  
Looking for luscious Spring colors, bending the rules of play for the Open Salon Kitchen Challenge, I throw geography to the wind, and choose produce from every-which-way, starting off with a ruby red head of cabbage from Michigan or who-knows-where.  Gorgeous.  

In the basket goes another head of cabbage -- pale green, then a fennel bulb (in season in Louisiana) and bright carrots (in season in North Carolina).  Add shallots and leeks, along with a sprig of rosemary, a pound of dried Great Northern beans, and a few slices of pancetta. . . 
Now what to make of this?  Ahh, I know just the thing.  Ribollita! 
“Suppa Toscana,” the classic bread soup of Tuscany.

Talk about peasant stock, ribollita (ree-boh-LEE-tah), literally “reboiled” soup, is thick and yummy, and an excellent use of  leftover soup stock, vegetables, canned tomatoes, you name it.  The secret of a good ribollita  is slow cooking.  On low simmer, on the back burner, the mix of vegetables and beans thickens into a heady,  hearty aromatic sort of stew.   I’ve had the real deal in Italy,  on a Trek Bike Tour through Tuscany, and I can tell you, the dish is well worth the sore saddle and 40-mile climb up and down steep hills.    

According to The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (John Mariani) ribollita is traditionally made with cannellini (Great Northern) beans, olive oil, red cabbage and vegetables (of your choosing), bread and cheese, left to stand, and reheated.  It is traditionally served thick enough to eat with a fork.  Sometimes it is referred to a suppa del cane (soup of the dog) because of its simplicity.   

There are many different recipes for ribollita on line.  The method is simple enough and most every combination of soup stock, greens, beans and tomatoes are fine.  Ribolitta can be reheated or reconstituted with new stock or vegetables the next day for a whole new version.  I’ve taken a sampling of several recipes, so follow the recipe below, according to your taste and discretion: 
  • 1 cup dried cannellini or Great Northern beans
  • About 2 cups red cabbage, shredded 
  • About 2 cups green cabbage or chard, shredded
  • 1/4 up extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 potatoes
  • 4 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 3 to 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 Parmesan, grated
  • 1/2 loaf ciabatta bread, sliced and cubed 
Here’s what you do:
Pre-soak beans in water for 8 hours or over night. Drain and rinse. 
- Faster method: Rinse beans and place in large, heavy saucepan with the garlic cloves, bay leaf, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook at a simmer for about an hour or until the beans are tender, adding more water as needed. Remove the bay leaf and let the beans cool. Puree half the beans in a food processor. 
Heat olive oil in a large casserole or cast iron pot with a cover.  
Saute the garlic, onion and pancetta until onion is golden brown and pancetta is crisp.  Add the chopped carrot, leek, potatoes, salt and pepper and saute.  Add tomatoes and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release all the brown bits. Add the cabbage, beans, herbs, stock, and bay leaf.  Bring to a very slow simmer and cook for about 1 1/2 hours.  Add bread cubes and parmesan to the soup, mix and heat in oven for 20 minutes.   
An alternative method for serving soup less thick: instead of adding bread to soup, drizzle olive oil on ciabatta bread slices, and toast in oven. Place in individual bowls and ladle soup over toast to serve. 

First a howling blizzard woke us,
Then the rain came down to soak us,
And now before the eye can focus -
~Lilja Rogers

With memories of Tuscany...
Thanks for dropping by.
Photos: V and M Henoch 

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Gorgeous photos, Vivian. I want Tuscany NOW. I'd settle for a bowl of your fabulous soup, though, but I wouldn't trade my Georgia weather for yours in Michigan about now. Love it. :) Rated
Very interesting post. Makes me believe in Spring and Soup!
I envy you, your season is obviously a much longer one than we have in the UK. It's just started to warm up here a little but it will be a good few weeks before we are able to pick our own Strawberries or any other soft fruit. Winter greens are still the order of the day here. Though I will be able to forage for wild herbs and garlic now it will be a few weeks before I will be harvesting anything like new potatoes. I love this recipe and will give it a good looking at very soon. Enjoy your spring.......R
Thank you for your comments.
--Re: our long growing season-- Michigan is probably similar to the UK. Though the State is rich and diversified in agriculture, we, too are weeks/months away before most produce will show up in the stores. Strawberries are perpetually "in season" at the grocery, thanks to California and other states in milder climates.
I miss Michigan winters . . .
I love your ribollita recipe and these gorgeous photos. Especially that sweet little crocus! I looked at the Epicurious map and one for NYC Greenmarket too. "Dormant" might as well have read "depressing". And yet, with this recipe you make hanging onto winter for another week seem like a cozy, happy thing.
Thanks for your comment. Hanging on to winter, indeed. Soups on... just a little longer. In another month, we're on to Passover and Easter - real spring tonics and warming trends for sure. :)
That soup looks delicious! I love that this tale begins in Michigan and ends in Tuscany.
On slow simmer, I'm enjoying these comments today. (I'm wishing I brought my Tuscan soup to work today; thinking I could use a bowl just about now.)
Stunning photographs! - they make me want to try ribolitta even though I'd never heard of it before. I do not miss northern winters (NW and central Ohio) since moving to Carolina 20 years ago, but it was a cold winter this year. Stay warm and keep cooking....