Honor Your Heart with a Bowl of Ribollita

February is National Heart Month

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

It’s nearly Valentine’s Day – time to celebrate friends and loved ones.  It’s also time to honor your heart.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women and an elevated blood cholesterol level is a major risk factor (1,2). Food and lifestyle choices matter.

Eating more legumes (beans and lentils) is one of the American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations for cardiovascular health (3). This beloved Italian soup, Ribollita, elevates beans to comfort-food fame. I’ve been making if for nearly 20 years, since tasting it at the Castello Banfi winery in Tuscany where it was the starter a of a multi-course lunch, with wine pairings. For me, Ribollita is a quintessential cold-weather dish, but it was served to me in summer, the 4th of July, which can only mean that in Italy, Ribollitta is too special to be limited to a season.

Ribollitta means twice-boiled: take yesterday’s bean and vegetable soup and mash in pieces of stale bread to thickens it into a new, creamy version. Try it and you’ll understand the appeal My children, dining with us at Castello Banfi, fell in love with Ribollitta. My son, called it “Italian Chili,” polished off his bowl, and his little sister’s.

My recipe for Ribollita borders on sacrilege because I don’t mash in the bread. Instead, I puree some of the cannellini beans and stir them in. Arguably the creamiest of all beans, a minute or two in the blender and cannellinis turn into a silky cream, perfect for a soup base. I save the bread to slather with garlic-flavored olive oil, oven-toast and serve as an accompaniment. This version is meatless, but gets robust umami flavor from simmering the broth with Parmesan rinds, saved for just this purpose.  If you lean vegan, omit them and use a vegetable broth.

Eating more legumes is associated with lower levels of total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and better heart health, possibly due to the viscous soluble fiber in beans preventing dietary cholesterol absorption, blocking bile, and / or suppressing production of cholesterol in the body.

The robust nutrient content of legumes benefits overall health. Beans have nutrients you expect from animal foods like protein, iron and zinc, thiamin and riboflavin – and nutrients found in produce such as folate, potassium and magnesium. Some of the carbohydrates in beans are resistant starches, prebiotics that feed your good gut bacteria, help with blood sugar control and satiety. (4,5,6).

Win your Valentine’s Heart with Ribollita.

Tuscan Ribollita

 There are many versions of this thick, satisfying soup. Many have meat included and thicken the soup by stirring in stale bread and mashing it to a paste. This recipe is vegetarian, uses pureed cannellini beans to create creaminess and includes garlicy toasted bread on the side.

5 cups cooked cannellini beans (See “to cook beans” below or use canned, drained beans)

4 -5 cups vegetable or chicken broth or water

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large leeks, white and bit of pale green parts, chopped to make 3 cups

2 large carrots, chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes with juice, pulsed in blender or food processor to chop

3 to 4 pieces Parmesan rind

3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1 tablespoon dry

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 whole bay leaf

1 large head of cavalo nero (lacinato or dinosaur kale), stems removed and leaves cut into strips, or 3 cups sliced, cored green or savoy cabbage

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 To serve:

Rustic day-old bread, sliced and torn into pieces and toasted (See To Toast Bread, below)

Freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

Balsamic vinegar

  1. Puree 3 cups of the cannellini beans with ½ cup broth or water until creamy and smooth. Leave remaining 2 cups beans whole. Set aside.
  2. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat.  Add olive oil, leeks and carrot; cook, stirring occasionally until leek is soft and beginning to brown. Stir in garlic.  Add remaining broth, tomatoes and liquid, pureed beans, whole beans, parmesan rinds, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Cover, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 30 to 60 minutes.
  3. With tongs, remove and discard parmesan rinds and bay leaf.  Stir in kale leaves. Simmer for 5 minutes or until kale is tender. If needed, adjust thickness of soup with more broth or by continued cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Ladle into bowls. Top with shredded or shaved Parmesan cheese, a drizzle of vinegar. Serve with toasted rustic bread.

To Cook Beans: Place 1 pound (2 cups) beans in a large pot. Add 2 quarts water or more to cover beans.  Stir in 1 ½ tablespoons of salt.  Soak overnight.  Drain and rinse. Place in large soup pot. Cover with water. Add a teaspoon of salt, a bay leaf or rosemary sprig, a clove of smashed garlic and/or a bit of sliced onion. Simmer 1 hour or until beans are soft but still hold their shape.  Drain.

To Toast Bread:  Heat your oven to 375°. Warm ¼ to ½ cup of olive oil with a clove or two of smashed garlic. Brush on slices of your favorite rustic (unsweetened), whole grain bread.  Place on a baking sheet and toast for 8 to 10 minutes or until crisp.

References

  1. CDC Heart Disease Facts
  2. CDC American Heart Month 
  3. The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations
  4. Beans and Heart Health, The American Bean Institute 
  5. A Soluble Fiber Primer — Plus the Top Five Foods That Can Lower LDL Cholesterol. Judith C. Thalheimer, RD, LDN. Today’s Dietitian Vol. 15 No. 12 P. 16
  6. Ask the Expert: Legumes and Resistant Starch, Harvard.edu

© Lorelle Del Matto 2019

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

Comments

  1. It’s going to be end of mine day, but before ending I am reading this wonderful article to increase my know-how.

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