Chef Pamela Sheldon Johns' Ribollita, a Tuscan soup

August 30, 2011 10:26:19 AM PDT
Acclaimed Tuscan Chef Pamela Sheldon Johns is in Chicago promoting her new book and offering cooking classes. Tuesday she showed ABC7 how to make Ribollita, a classic Tuscan vegetable-bread soup.

Johns' book is called "Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking." The recipe for Ribollita comes from that book. She shows ABC7 how to cook just one dish while preserving and transforming it into other dishes for each day of the week.

Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking

The restaurant Da Delfina in Artimino, just west of Florence, is a reference point for cucina povera. Chef Carlo Cioni understands intimately the relationship between the land and the table. In his hands, a sturdy vegetable soup is transformed into a second dish by layering leftover soup with bread, then into a third dish by baking the leftover layered soup and bread. The fourth and final transformation is ribollita, the remaining vegetable stew cooked in a skillet, a dish that exemplifies the resourcefulness of Tuscan cooks.

Carlo insists it must be made on top of the stove, not in the oven, a version often seen in restaurants. Oil is used sparingly for this is a peasant dish. The ingredients vary according to what is available, but Carlo explains, "There must be a balance between the dolce (sweet), aromatica (aromatic), and amaro (bitter)." The sweet is found in herbs, such as parsley, celery, and purslane; the aromatic is in thyme, borage, and fennel; and the bitter essences come from mustard greens and chicory. A leafy green is always present; in the winter, cavolo nero, and in the summer, cabbage.

Carlo admonishes cooks to handle the beans tenderly and cook them slowly, and "dolcemente," gently, so they are not broken or crushed. He soaks them overnight with aromatics: whole cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, and a sprig of sage. Use any seasonal vegetables in this soup, and cook them in the order of hardness; start with vegetables such as potatoes that take longer to cook, and finish with the tender herbs.

Ribollita, Classic Tuscan Vegetable-Bread Soup

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 onion, finely chopped, plus 1/2 cup more chopped onion for Day 3
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 or 2 boiling potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 zucchini, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cups shredded cavolo nero (dinosaur or lacinato kale) or regular kale
  • 1 cup shredded assorted leafy greens (such as Swiss chard, nettles, and spinach)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped aromatic greens (such as borage, fennel, and mustard)
  • 2 cups cooked cannellini beans
  • 1/4 cup minced mixed aromatic herbs (such as fresh flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, and sage)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound day-old country bread, thinly sliced

Day 1: Minest ra di Verdura (Vegetable Soup)

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onion, carrots, and celery for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the onion is golden. Add the garlic and stock, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the potatoes and zucchini. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the cavolo nero and leafy greens. Decrease the temperature to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the beans and aromatic herbs. Simmer for 10 minutes to heat the beans through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in warmed soup bowls. Serves 8

Day 2: Minestra di Pane (Bread Soup)

In a saucepan, warm the leftover soup over medium-low heat. Place very thin slices of country-style bread in the bottom of a lightly oiled baking dish. Spoon one-third of the hot soup over the bread, and repeat with two more layers of bread and soup. Cover and let stand or 15 minutes to 1 hour in a warm place before serving.

Day 3: Minestra di Pane al Forno (Baked Bread Soup)

In a preheated 375°F oven, heat the leftover Bread Soup in its baking dish. Sprinkle with chopped onion and drizzle with olive oil. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the onions are lightly browned.

Day 4: Ribollita (Recooked Vegetable Stew)

Lightly brush a medium skillet with olive oil. Spoon the remaining Baked Bread Soup into the pan and brown over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, or until crisp on the bottom. Turn and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes to crisp the second side. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. The ribollita should be firm enough to eat with a fork. Serve at once.

From Cucina Povera by Pamela Sheldon Johns/Andrews McMeel Publishing


Acclaimed Tuscan Chef, Author and Instructor Pamela Sheldon Johns launches Cookbook in Midwest

In today's on-the-go world we are often so caught up in our busy lives that we cook whatever is fast and easy, if we cook at all. Because of this hustle and bustle we have forgotten the simple pleasure of eating well. Tuscan author and cooking instructor Pamela Sheldon Johns reminds us of the joy of seasonal and delicious food in the beautifully photographed Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Sept. 13, 2011, $21.99) -- a book that's very close to her heart.

Cucina Povera not only includes some of Pamela's favorite recipes, but she shares a collection of stories from some amazingly resilient and lovely people. The stories are mini-histories of how people lived through extremely difficult times, and not so long ago. It is an emotional work for Pamela; in fact, many of the interviews ended in tears. As she drives through the countryside of Tuscany now, she is haunted by the spirits of those characters who truly formed the culinary landscape of today... a cuisine that can serve us well in these tumultuous times. Make no mistake, we have so much more to live on now than sixty years ago, but there are lessons we can learn from our predecessors. Cucina Povera truly shares the heart and soul of Tuscan peasant cooking.

Johns' cooking demonstrations:

Pamela Sheldon Johns will come to the United States August 27th through September 11th for a culinary tour to teach us the art of creating simple, satisfying Tuscan food, as she promotes her new book and talks about her life in Tuscany, what it's like to run a bed & breakfast on an organic farm near Montepulciano, where she produces her very own organic olive oil. The following is her tour schedule. Schedule is subject to change, confirm information prior to publication.

August 28, 2011 - Private Class

August 29, 2011 - Private Class

August 30, 2011 - Private Class

August 31, 2011 at 6:00 pm ? Cooking Class, Downtown Chicago (in private location, open to public enrollment), to register contact

FOOD BLOGGER EVENT (just added): September 1, 2011 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm
Demo and Tasting Event for Food Bloggers
WHOLE FOODS-- 750 N. Martingale Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173, call for directions: 847.585.5800 Space is limited, advanced pre-registration is required, email to register. Blog/writer credentials must be pre-approved. Bloggers will receive a complimentary copy of Cucina Povera.
Demo & Tasting Menu: Crostini dello Cortil, Frittura di Primavera, Panzanell, Zuppa di Farro and Fichi allo Virio. Flat water, Sparkling water and Italian wine pairings for each dish.

September 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm - Cooking Class, Downtown Chicago (in private location, open to public enrollment), to register contact

September 9-10, 2011 - Epicurean Classic in Transverse City, MI, Speaker and Presenter, full event schedule:

September 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm -

    Dinner/Pamela cooks with Chef Myles Anton at Trattoria Stella
  • Address: 1200 West Eleventh Street, Traverse City, MI 49684-3287
  • Phone: 231.929.8989
  • Register online:
  • Event Description: Pamela Sheldon Johns will partner with Chef Myles to feature an evening of Tuscan Peasant cooking from the kitchens of Trattoria Stella and Ms. Johns' cookbook Cucina Povera. Both chefs will collaborate to create the evening's dinner menu and Ms. Johns will be working side-by-side Chef Myles all evening. The menu will be a la carte and pricing will be consistent with our daily dinner menu, including options from both chefs in all categories. We encourage sharing many dishes among your group as you would at the family table.
September 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm-
    Cooking Demo/Recipe: Pici Aglione con le Briciole
  • Register online:
  • Event description: Pamela Sheldon Johns will conduct a cooking demonstration featuring a recipe from Cucina Povera - Pici Aglione con le Briciole
September 10, 2011 at 7:00 pm -
    Grand Gala/Tasting: Peposo di Guanciale and Polenta
  • Register online:
  • Event description: Guests will have the opportunity to meet Pamela Sheldon Johns, taste a recipe from Cucina Povera - Peposo di Guanciale and Polenta - and have their cookbook signed.


Well-known cooking instructor Pamela Sheldon Johns is the host of culinary workshops throughout Italy and was recently named one of the top 10 culinary guides in Europe by The Wall Street Journal. She is the author of 16 cookbooks including Parmigiano!, 50 Great Appetizers, and 50 Great Pasta Sauces. Pamela, her farm in Tuscany, and her cooking school have been featured by CNN Travel, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, and Canadian Geographic. For more information, visit

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