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Ribollita – an easy stew using leftovers for dinner

At Food Shift our efforts are focused on recovering good food that would otherwise be wasted. We know that Americans throw away an estimated 25% of the food they bring home, so we’d like to start sharing some inspiring recipes to use food that might be sitting in your refrigerator today. 

It’s the beginning of February, the days are cool and short, and many of us are looking for a warm and filling meal that can come together pretty fast in the evening. If you’re at all like me, once it gets dark, I start getting sleepy so I need to get some dinner on the table quickly! 

A good option for this time of year is a hearty soup, and an easy and tasty one that comes to mind is Ribollita. This is part stew, part soup, and originated in Italy as a way to use up the old bread and vegetables that might be laying around the house in the fall and winter. Ribollita translates to “re-boiled”, and refers to reheating leftover bean or vegetable soups. It is rooted in the Tuscan tradition of not wasting anything, and is a way to make an inexpensive delicious warming meal to share. It is exceptionally filling, and gets tastier the longer it sits in the fridge, so it’s great for leftovers. The best part with this one is that the recipe is so flexible- you can throw in all kinds of vegetables that you might have laying around. Also it puts those crusty ends of a loaf of bread to good use. I don’t always want to use those ends when I make a sandwich, so now I save them in the freezer just for this recipe. This soup is also a great way to utilize something you might otherwise just compost- the rind on your hunk of parmesan cheese. If you throw that rind into this soup while it’s cooking, it lends a great complex salty flavor that really enhances the taste. Now you know to always save the cheese rind, it’s too good to throw away!

Ribollita recipes usually call for some sort of white beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, a dense leafy green and chunks of old bread. But if you’re comfortable with experimentation, you can also swap in zucchini, fennel, cabbage, leeks, potatoes, turnips, winter squash, swiss chard, parsley, and basil. This recipe is vegetarian, but if you are a meat-eater and you have some bacon you can certainly throw in a little of that too. Or if you’d like to make the recipe vegan instead, no need to use the parmesan rind or shredded cheese at the end – instead you can just add more olive oil to add richness, and possibly a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.

Basic Ribollita Recipe – about 8 servings


  • 1 large onion (or leeks), peeled and chopped
  • 3 medium carrots (or winter squash or sweet potato), chopped
  • 2 big celery stalks (or fennel), chopped
  • 8 medium garlic cloves, smashed, skins discarded
  • 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 big bunch kale (or swiss chard or collard greens)
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Salt
  • 1 28 oz. can diced or whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 14 oz cans white beans (cannelloni, navy beans, etc)(using dried beans that you cook is great too!)
  • 1 rind Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano) cheese, plus some actual cheese to grate for garnish
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 4 cups (approximately) of torn bite-size chunks of stale bread


  1. Combine the chopped onion, carrots and celery in a bowl, along with the smashed garlic. Make sure the garlic is really broken apart into small pieces, if not smash it some more or do a quick chop to break it down. Add the garlic to the bowl.
  2. Wash the kale, and tear the leaves from the stems with your hands, saving the stems for another purpose if you like. Then tear the leaves into bite size pieces and place in a bowl.
  3. Begin heating a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat, then add the olive oil. Once the oil is warm, add the bowl of onions, carrots, celery and garlic, along with 2 teaspoons salt and the crushed red pepper flakes. Stir to mix and cook on medium with the lid partially covering the pot, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened but not browned, about 8 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, open the can of tomatoes, and pour into a strainer set on top of a bowl. Allow the juices to strain into the bowl, which you will save to add to the soup later. Squeeze and press the tomatoes in the strainer to get the juices to drain out. Set aside.
  5. Drain and rinse the cans of beans. 
  6. Add the strained pressed tomatoes to the pot and stir well to combine (don’t add the tomato juice quite yet). If you have any leftover tomato paste in your fridge you could add that in here now too. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes. 
  7. Now add the beans to the pot, along with the tomato juice, the parmesan rind if using, and 4 cups of hot water. Put on the lid and bring up to a simmer.
  8. Once it’s bubbling for about 5 minutes, begin to add the kale – you will probably need to add it in batches and let it wilt before the rest will fit into the pot. Stir it up really well so it can begin to soften.
  9. Add the pieces of torn bread and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Taste and add black pepper and a little salt if needed, but keep in mind that you will be shredding parmesan cheese on top just before serving which will add saltiness. The stew will probably be pretty thick, which is great. If you’d like it even thicker, you could add more bread or just let it cook down longer. If you want it more broth-y, you could add more water with salt, or you could add some vegetable broth if you have that on hand. The thickness is really up to how you like it.
  10. Remove the parmesan rind from the pot. Ladle the stew into bowls, drizzle each with more olive oil and grate Parmesan cheese on top (or sprinkle with nutritional yeast if you prefer). Enjoy!

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