This one-pot Italian stew will save your weeknight dinner plans

Fresh ingredients shine in this vegetable, bean and bread stew

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Ribolitta — a vegetable, bean and bread stew — is a classic example of Tuscan la cucina povera, or peasant cooking, but that doesn't mean it isn't delicious, hearty or complex.

Because food is so fundamental to Italian culture, la cucina povera may be "poor people's food," but it doesn't skimp on thoughtfulness. It incorporates relatively simple techniques with excellent ingredients to make every bite as tasty and wholesome as possible, while not wasting anything. In Ribolitta's case, using at least day-old rustic bread is recommended.

Ribolitta means reboiled, which defines it as a dish meant to be made ahead and served later. Even though it doesn't require a great deal of preparation time, it's perfect to make on a weekend and serve during the week when meal preparation time is tighter. As it's made with vegetables, beans and bread, it makes for a healthy vegetarian one-bowl meal, as well.

As some of you may know, I'm blessed to work part-time for the Masiero family and Mike Mazzeo in my semi-retirement at Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield. There are many advantages to this besides the extra money each week. Working there assures me of seeing many of my friends, customers and coworkers alike, I've made over the last few years while helping people make wine and cheese choices. Not to be taken for granted, a generous employee discount on the best quality ingredients helps both my cooking and wallet, making employment there that much more advantageous for an old chef on Social Security like me.

Before I begin with the recipe, I'd like to note a couple of local food products that made my meal of Ribolitta extraordinarily special. The first is Berkshire Mountain Bakery's ciabatta. In the recipe, I use Richard Bourdon's exceptional sourdough ciabatta, which he's been making for over 35 years in Housatonic. I also used his bread for a side dish of bruschetta, topped with Willy Bridgham's authentic hand-ladled Inagadda Ricotta from Four Fat Fowl, made next door in Stephentown, N.Y. Altogether, when combined with the best Italian canned tomatoes, the freshest organic Tuscan kale from Lady Moon Farm and a sprinkling of Pecorino Toscano that Guido's imports directly from Italy, the meal transported me to sunny Tuscany on a gray winter's evening in New England.     

RIBOLITTA

I developed this as an easy-to-prepare recipe for a busy household. There are as many recipes for Ribolitta as there are Italian nonnas in Tuscany, all of whom may defend her Ribolitta as the authentic recipe!

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 cups 1/2-inch diced onion

1 1/2 cups 1/2-inch carrots

1 1/2 cups 1/2-inch diced celery

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1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 28-ounce can best quality Italian whole peeled tomatoes

1 tomato can of water and more as needed

1 bunch (about 1 pound) kale, preferably Lacinato (Tuscan) kale, ribs removed and torn or chopped in bite-size pieces

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

3 15.5-ounce cans of cannellini beans

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves

1/3 ciabatta loaf, day-old, preferably Berkshire Mountain Bakery, cut in about 1-inch cubes

Zest of one lemon, preferably organic, washed and dried

Grated Pecorino Toscano for garnish (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a large thick-bottomed pot over medium heat, saute the onion, carrot, celery and garlic until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Squeeze the tomatoes by hand into the pot and add all the juices from the can. Add 1 tomato can of water, the kale, red pepper flakes and simmer for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, empty one can of cannellini beans with a splash of water into a bowl, thoroughly mash with a potato masher and add to the pot. Add the remaining two cans of cannellini beans, rosemary, lemon zest and bread and simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the Ribolitta to thicken for at least 20 minutes. Reheat the Ribolitta and add more water if necessary, to desired thickness. Adjust salt and pepper, serve in bowls and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Finish each bowl with a sprinkling of grated cheese if desired.


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