Tuscany’s tradition of cucina povera (peasant cooking) was inspired by frugal cooks who maximized the flavor of a few ingredients to create dishes that were more than the sum of their parts. For our ribollita, a bread soup, we add chopped chard stems and toasted croutons for texture, while fragrant fennel heightens the flavor. And, we cook potatoes like rice for a richer, creamier braised potato — patate in umido — all done on the stove-top.
Tuscan Soup With Bread, Beans, and Greens (Ribollita)
Makes 4 servings
In Italian, ribollita means “reboiled,” a reference to this dish’s origins as peasant food — leftover bread, beans, and inexpensive vegetables were thrown into a pot and simmered to make a hearty soup. For our version, we cut the bread into cubes, toast it in olive oil, and use it as a garnish so that it better retains its texture. We like red Swiss chard for the color it adds, but any variety works well. Great Northern beans hold their shape nicely, but you could use cannellini beans instead. If you like, serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.
Use the chard stems — chop and cook them with the onion and bell pepper for added texture and flavor.
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus extra to serve
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
5 ounces rustic bread, such as ciabatta, cut into 1-inch cubes (4 cups)
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 bunch red Swiss chard, stems removed and sliced ¼-inch thick, leaves cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces and reserved separately
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1½ quarts low-sodium chicken broth
2 15½-ounce cans Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
In a medium bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of the oil, the paprika, and ¾ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Add the bread and toss to coat. Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, then add the bread and cook, stirring, until crisp and brown, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onion, bell pepper, and chard stems. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and fennel seeds and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the chard leaves and cook, stirring, until beginning to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a simmer, then reduce to medium heat. Stir in the beans, then cover and cook until the chard leaves are tender, 7 to 9 minutes.
Off the heat, taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with the croutons.
Tuscan Braised Potatoes (Patate in Umido)
Makes 4 servings
This vegetable stew is based on a recipe in Autentico: Cooking Italian, the Authentic Way, by Rolando Beramendi. The potatoes are cooked using a technique that’s often employed with risotto: the liquid is incorporated in multiple additions. This concentrates flavors while using the potatoes' natural starch to create a sauce that clings lightly to the chunks. We like the flavor backbone of chicken broth, but you could make this dish vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth.
A narrow pot won’t work here; the wide diameter of a Dutch oven allows for more rapid evaporation of liquid. Also, don’t use lower-starch potatoes, such as red, white, or Yukon gold. Russets are the best choice, because their starchiness gives them a light, tender texture when cooked and lends the sauce a velvety quality.
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
2 small red onions, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
3 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
14½-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
2½ cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
8-inch sprig fresh rosemary
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
½ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, combine the oil, onions, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions just begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and stir to coat with the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potato starch that coats the bottom of the pot starts to brown, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, 1 cup of broth, the pepper flakes, the rosemary, and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then distribute the potatoes in an even layer. Cook, occasionally scraping along the bottom of the pot with a silicone spatula and gently folding the mixture, for 10 minutes; adjust the heat as needed to maintain a steady simmer.
Add ½ cup of the remaining broth and cook, occasionally scraping and folding, for another 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup broth in 2 additions in the same way, cooking for only 5 minutes after the final addition and stirring gently so the potatoes don’t break up. Cover the pot, remove from the heat, and let stand for 5 minutes.
Stir in half the basil, then season to taste. Remove and discard the rosemary, then transfer the potatoes to a bowl, drizzle with additional oil, and sprinkle with the remaining basil.
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