This year for book club, my choice was The Italian Party, a novel set in 1950s Sienna and “teeming with seduction and spycraft.” My menu was inspired by food from the book and centered on this Ribollita, a stew of kale, tomatoes, and beans, thickened with day-old bread. It’s a recipe and style of cooking thought of as “poor cooking” and making the most of what you have, but it was a beautiful dish to serve to friends with wine, Cacio e Pepe, and delightful discussion of a great story.
Recipe from NYT Cooking.
- 5 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 1/2 Tbs. minced garlic
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 3 cups cooked or canned cannellini beans
- 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
- 6 cups vegetable stock or water (I used Kitchen Basics vegetable stock)
- 2 fresh rosemary sprigs
- 2 fresh thyme sprigs
- 10 oz. baby kale, chopped
- 6 large, thick slices whole-grain bread, toasted
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Put 2 Tbs. of the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add onion, carrot, celery and garlic; sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, 5 to 10 minutes.
Heat the oven to 500º. Drain the beans; if they’re canned, rinse them as well. Add them to the pot along with tomatoes and their juices and stock, rosemary and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat so the soup bubbles steadily; cover and cook, stirring once or twice to break up the tomatoes, until the flavors meld, 15 to 20 minutes.
Fish out and discard rosemary and thyme stems, if you like, and stir in kale. Taste and adjust seasoning. Lay bread slices on top of the stew* so they cover the top and overlap as little as possible. Scatter red onion slices over the top, drizzle with the remaining 3 Tbs. oil and sprinkle with Parmesan.
Put the pot in the oven and bake until the bread, onions and cheese are browned and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. (If your pot fits under the broiler, you can also brown the top there.) Divide the soup and bread among 4 bowls and serve.
* Alternately, once the stew is cooked, toast the bread with olive oil and Parmesan cheese separately, and serve it atop the stew.