Ribollita, a Florentine bean soup that is based on bread, is called zuppa del cane (“soup of the dog”) in Tuscany because it’s so elemental. “If this soup is for dogs,” says Luisa Cappelli, “those dogs are extremely lucky.”
Luisa was born in Tuscany, but she married a man from Genoa and lived in that city for decades, returning to Chianti from time to time to tend the vineyards from which she makes wine and Vin Santo. She learned to make ribollita from her mother-in-law, whose passion for cooking was all enveloping. Luisa discovered that, like her mother-in-law, the more she cooked, the more she loved it and the more she cared about every facet of being in the kitchen. Searching out the best ingredients, she began buying pepper from an old man at the port of Genoa. She bought some for herself, some for friends, and some to take to Chianti. Spending her extravagant energies by cooking many dishes day after day, she found herself returning to the old man for more and more pepper until on one visit he looked at her quizzically and quietly asked if she had a trattoria.
If you were truly following all her directions, you would start with the bone remaining from a prosciutto, being certain that the fat on the rind wasn’t rancid. Three days before beginning to cook, you would put it in boiling water to clean it and make the rind softer, then you would change the water frequently until the rind was really soft. At that point you would cut it in pieces. Luisa swears that the soup has the most exquisite flavor when it is made on a wood or charcoal fire with the top of the pot covered with ashes. I can’t imagine that it could taste any better than this ribollita that is more like a pudding than a soup.
To make a true ribollita—ribollita means “boiled again,” so this is for the day after you have served the original soup—take a 12-inch cast-iron Dutch oven or deep casserole, add 3 or 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and as much of the soup as the pot will hold. Heat it up over a low fire and serve.