The Italian "Secret Soup" Recipe Everyone Needs to Master

2017 © Con Poulos
2017 © Con Poulos

Ribollita, a classic Italian dish made with beans, tomato sauce, parmesan, and bread, becomes particularly memorable thanks to the homemade vegetable stock. This recipe, from The Haven's Kitchen Cooking School by Alison Cayne ($23), is comfort food at its most sophisticated.

2017 © Con Poulos



    • Stock:
    • 3 celery stalks, chopped
    • 3 carrots, chopped
    • 1 large onion, chopped
    • 1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
    • 1/4 bunch of flat-leaf parsley
    • 5 thyme sprigs
    • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
    • 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
    • Soup:
    • Extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 celery stalks, diced
    • 1 yellow onion, diced
    • 1 fennel bulb, diced
    • Fine sea salt
    • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
    • 9 cups homemade vegetable stock
    • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 5 thyme springs and 5 flat-leaf parsley sprigs tied together with twine
    • 1 cup dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight, or one 15-ounce can cannellini beans
    • 2 or 3 pieces of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, each a few inches
    • Pinch of red pepper flakes
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 3 slices of stale country-style bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and toasted (about 2 cups)
    • 1 small bunch lacinato (aka dinosaur, aka Tuscan) kale, stemmed and chopped
    • Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
    • 1 lemon


    1. For the stock: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade, pulse the celery, carrots, onion, and fennel until the mixture is chunky with pea-sized bits.

    2. Place a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the vegetable mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes.

    3. Pour in 4 quarts water. Add the garlic, parsley, thyme, peppercorns, and bay leaves. (The stock will be strained later, so a sachet is not necessary.) Bring to a boil over high heat, and then simmer over low heat for 45 minutes.

    4. Set a fine-mesh sieve or a colander lined with a kitchen towel or cheesecloth over another large pot and strain the stock. This step takes the murkiness out of the stock, which gives it a nicer mouthfeel and also extends the stock's shelf life. Discard the pulp. If not using it immediately, let cool to room temperature, and then pour into freezer bags or lidded containers, cover, and refrigerate or freeze. Tightly sealed, the stock will keep for 5 days in the refrigerator and up to 6 months in the freezer.


    Two seemingly disparate things are able to comfortably coexist: everyone’s grandmother can have a “secret” soup recipe and every one of those recipes likely follows a similar fundamental pattern. This ribollita recipe illustrates one such pattern, as it shows how to build a soup from the bottom up, beginning with a foundation of sautéed aromatics and gradually adding depth of flavor, texture, and color with other ingredients. This vegetable stock is one of our secrets to making great soups. Use it as your liquid for a deeper, more flavorful soup. Make a big pot of it when you have a free afternoon. Let it cool until lukewarm. Line a jug or pitcher with a 1-quart ziplock freezer bag, ladle the stock into the bag, and seal it. You should be able to fill four bags. Freeze them for up to six months by laying them flat in the freezer. That way, defrosting them takes less time.