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Tuscan Vegetable Soup

By Cheryl Forberg
Image of Organic Yellow Onions
Somewhere between a stew and a hearty soup, this iconic Tuscan meal is not only easy on the budget; it’s surprisingly satisfying too – even to hardcore carnivores! Known as Ribollita, (which means “reboiled”), this “peasant food” was a thrifty way for housewives to use-up extra garden vegetables and re-purpose cheese rinds (adds flavor) and stale, 2-day old bread. This healthy soup also delivers nine vegetables in every bowl—an easy, tasty way to get finicky kids (and, Dad’s) their requisite “5-A-Day”!

What makes this Tuscan vegetable potage unique is that it’s thickened with dry bread and smashed, cooked Cannelloni beans, which melt into the garlicky broth and thicken its texture from the consistency of water to oatmeal. In this cleaver twist on a traditional comfort-food fav, the bread and beans are switched out for barley, a whole grain not only adds the requisite bulk but supplies important health benefits as well. Barley is an excellent source of fiber—both soluble and insoluble—and is a good source of phosphorus, copper and manganese. This is good news for diabetics since barley’s beta glucan soluble fiber has been shown to promote healthy blood sugar levels by slowing down glucose absorption. Beta glucan also lowers cholesterol by binding it to bile acids, making it a good choice for enhancing heart health. For those worried about colon cancer, barley not only supplies fiber, which minimizes the amount of time cancer-causing substances come in contact with colon cells, but is also a very good source of selenium, which has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer significantly.

Another reason to add this to recipe your go-to–list is: this healthy soup is versatile. If you want a more traditional flavor profile, change out the spinach for Italian Kale—licinatoor cavolonero. Since kale has a tougher texture and takes longer to cook than baby spinach, you’ll get the best results if you cut the kale into small pieces before adding it to the soup, and, add it during the middle of the cooking process (with the tomatoes), rather than at the end. For carnivores, try four cooked, crumbled mild Italian sausages during the last 3 minutes of cooking time for a more savory flavor profile; vegetarians can use vegetable stock, along with 4 heaping tablespoons of Basil Pesto, stirred in right before plating, to enhance flavor.

Tuscan Vegetable Soup
Serves: 4-6

8 ounce Frozen Yellow Corn, room temperature
4 tablespoon Olive Oil
2 cups (about 3 medium) Yellow Onions, diced
4 Carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice
4 stalks Celery, trimmed and cut into ¼ inch dice
½ teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
8 ounce Canned Tomatoes
32 ounce Chicken Stock
1 (3 inch rind) Parmesan Cheese
4 cloves Garlic, 2 smashed and 2 minced
½ Bay Leaf
2 tablespoon Fresh Thyme, chopped
¼ - ½ cup Uncooked Pearl Barley*
1 Yellow Squash, cut into ½-inch dice
1 Green Zucchini, cut into ½-inch dice
1 teaspoon Kosher Flake Salt
½ teaspoon Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Fennel Seeds
8 ounce Fresh Baby Spinach
1 teaspoon Lemon Juice
Freshly Black Pepper to taste
6 tablespoon Grated Pecorino or Parmesan Reggiano cheese

Heat a medium-size cast iron skillet over medium-high heat till hot and add corn. Cook, stirring occasionally with a metal spatula until the corn is lightly charred. Remove corn from skillet to a plate and set aside. In a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized, enameled Dutch oven, heat olive oil on medium-low heat until warm. Add onions and season with kosher salt. Sauté onions until they are translucent and soft, about 12 minutes. Add carrots, stir and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the celery, chili flakes and stir; cook for an additional 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, garlic, cheese rind, salt and black pepper and chicken stock. Raise the heat to medium-high until the soup comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium –low and add the barley; stir and cover. Cook for 25 minutes. Add the zucchini, yellow squash and cook for 10 minutes, or until squash is are tender. Remove from heat, add lemon juice and spinach. Stir and cover.

Add olive oil to a non-stick small pan on medium-heat and heat; add fennel seeds and toast till fragrance is released and the seeds appear lightly toasted in color. Remove from heat and add to soup and stir. Remove cheese rind. Place soup in bowls and top with a few turns of freshly ground black pepper and 1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese and serve. Notes from the Author: If you want a thinner texture the day of preparation, reduce the barley to ¼ cup. While this soup is best eaten within hours of cooking, it can be reheated the next day with one caveat: add more broth when reheating to thin down its texture. Just as the benchmark of a good Ribollita is that it will hold a fork in place the next day, this version does as well!
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