I realize that at this point you might be sick and tired of hearing us harp about how great Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal is. But hear me out one
more time. Everyone has stale bread. Or at least everyone who has bread at some point and does not eat it all eventually has stale bread lying around. And most of the time it gets thrown away, or responsibly composted. If you are culinarily educated, dear reader, you may already have known of stale bread soup; but as I read Tamar’s book, I was astounded to find out that not only does such a thing exist, but there is a long and ancient tradition of creating soup from leftover bread (Ribollita in Italian).
There are a few things that should be said about stale bread soup. First, it is not a soup in the same way that chicken noodle is a soup; stale bread soup is usually much thicker and feels more like a hearty chili. Second, stale bread soup is more of a general idea and a starting point than a recipe. It is meant to be made with whatever is around, provided you have some stale bread (otherwise, you will be making whatever-is-around soup – which could turn out to be vegetables-in-water “soup” if you don’t have any broth lying around).
The recipe below is adapted slightly from Tamar’s recipe for Ribollita in An Everlasting Meal. In usual Tamar fashion, you will use A LOT of olive oil in this recipe. We have made stale bread soup twice now, so I’ve noted the different things we used.
Stale Bread Soup (Ribollita)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
Celery, if you have it (I did not)
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs like parsley or rosemary or thyme (if you don’t have fresh, maybe do 1/4 cup dried?)
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
Tomatoes in some form, if you want (3 peeled fresh tomatoes, or I used 1 can diced. Made it once without tomatoes as well)
1 bunch leafy greens (I used kale once and cauliflower greens once; other ideas are swiss chard, collard greens, radish greens, etc)
1/4 cup water
2 cups cooked beans (I used a can of black beans both times, Tamar suggests chickpeas or cannellini beans)
2 cups broth from beans or chicken/veggie stock or cans of tomatoes (I used a combo of all three, and you can make up any shortfall with water)
1 piece of Parmesan rind (Do this if you can, because it makes the soup soooo tasty and rich. Also, what else are you going to do with your Parmesan rind?)
2 cups stale bread, crusts removed, torn/cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Heat 1/4 inch olive oil (this is just the beginning) in a big-ish soup pot. Cook the onion and garlic (and celery if you have it) until they soften. Add the herbs and chile flakes and a little bit of salt. Add the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes over medium heat.
Chop the greens (and remove from the stems) then add to the pot, and add the water. Cover and cook over low heat until the greens are wilted. Put in all your broths/waters/juices and the beans, plus the Parmesan rind.
(If you have a bunch of Parmesan left, make sure to cut the rind from the rest of the Parmesan. Otherwise, just save the Parmesan rind for when you will next make bread soup. Make sure your Parmesan is big enough that you can keep track of it, because you’re going to take it out later.)
Bring to a simmer, then add the bread and more olive oil (Tamar says to add 1/2 cup, but I was not brave enough and probably added about a 1/4 cup at this point). Cover and cook for 1/2 hour on low, stirring occasionally to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. The bread will soak up the soup and then liquify into it. Taste it, add more broth or salt or whatever you want, and then take it off the heat.
Add in another 1/2 cup olive oil (Tamar, are you crazy!?!? I probably added 3 tablespoons here) and take out the Parmesan rind. You can grate Parmesan on top and add some pepper to serve.
This soup is perfect for a windy, rainy, cold, or dark winter/fall night.