Knowing that Lacinato kale is one of Joe’s very favorite green things ever–having heard him bang on about it incessantly and having been served it in several lovely meals at his table–I kind of thought he’d go and do something unexpected with it. Turns out I was right.

How fortunate, then, that I also cooked against type, embracing kale’s humble Tuscan roots and making that cornerstone of Italy’s cucina povera, ribollita. I’d recently been served a version of it at a local Italian restaurant that shall remain nameless, primarily because the soup was thin, wan, and the beans were crunchy. CRUNCHY. Also,  tragic. Ribollita is SUPPOSED to be a lush, thick mix of beans, old bread, kale, etc.

Getting into the spirit of the thing, I pretty much winged it based on what was at hand–i.e., at home or at the market on the way home–rather than finding an ur-recipe from some scion of Italian cuisine… Marcella, Lidia, and all those other grande dames (or the Italian equivalent) will have to wait for another day.

In any event! According to Wikipedia, that inscrutable arbiter of all internet knowledge, the only things a ribollita HAS to have are: beans, kale, and old bread. No problem! Thus, for my first batch I went with a mild bacon rather than pancetta but I did manage to unearth a Parmesan rind from the bowels of the refrigerator, because I am nothing if not a thrifty European housewife. I mean, REALLY.

In subsequent forays, however, I’ve swapped in nubbins of spicy Spanish chorizo (cured, not fresh–that’d be Mexican chorizo…) and I’ve not looked back. With more flavor, (slightly) less grease, and a much more appealing texture when cooked, the chorizo wins hands down.

Regardless of the pork product you use, the result will be quite a tasty one–almost shockingly so–with all the pronounced flavors blending into an harmonious whole. The bread largely breaks down to thicken the soup into a stand-your-spoon-up-in-it stew. It’s a warming staple and model for this type of cooking’s ability to coax maximum flavor out of minimal ingredients. A good basic recipe to have on hand as the weather swings crazily from freezing rain to balmy sunshine over the course of a day, and the markets have not quite managed to produce the more edible signs that spring has arrived.

Yield: ~ 6 hearty dinner servings

6 oz spicy Spanish chorizo, pancetta, or bacon
4″ sprig rosemary
1 chile de  arbol
1 bay leaf
2 medium white onions
4 carrots
4 celery stalks
3 cloves garlic
4 c chicken stock
parmesan rind
1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
2 15 oz cans cannellini beans
2 bunches Lacinato kale
4 thick slices country bread
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
olive oil & Parmesan cheese for finishing

Dice your chorizo or pancetta finely. (If all you’ve got is bacon, put it in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it up. I find that–particularly with bacon–it’s nice to chill it and cut it fine so it disappears into the soup. Flabby bits of bacon are gross, and freezing it a little means you can chop it more finely.)

In large stock pot, cook chorizo, rosemary, chile, and bay leaf over medium heat till the fat has rendered, about 6 min.  While that’s cooking, get on with your vegetables. Peel and dice the onions and carrots, slice the celery, and mince the garlic.

Once the fat has rendered, add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pot and saute over medium heat for 5 min. Season very lightly with salt and pepper. While that’s sauteing, stem and roughly chop the kale and drain the beans. Also, remove the tomatoes from their can and disembowel them over the sink before returning them to the juicy can from whence they came. (Point here is to remove the seeds and watery juice from the interior of the tomatoes. Bitter is bad unless we’re talking about my outlook on life. So, once seeded, roughly chop the tomatoes and put them back in the can with the reserved puree they came in.)

Once the onion, garlic, and celery are nicely translucent, add the garlic to the pot and saute for another few minutes. Add the tomatoes and their reserved juices, the stock, and the Parmesan rind (if you’ve got it; the world won’t end if you don’t). Bring to a robust simmer and cook for 10 min. Add the beans, bread, kale and a bit of water if it needs it. (I added about 2 c.) Season a little more aggressively with salt and pepper, return to a low simmer, and let cook another 20 min or so, stirring occasionally.

Prior to serving, pick out rosemary stem, chile, and bay leaf, (if you can find them). The Parmesan rind can also be fished out and rinsed, dried, and wrapped up thriftily to flavor your next soup. Taste and correct seasoning. Add a splash of lemon if you’re like that. (I am.) Ladle into bowls, drizzle with olive oil, and add a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan.