A simple, delicious, rustic soup inspired by the flavors of Tuscany. This recipe makes enough to feed a crowd, but it’s incredible after the flavors mingle in the refrigerator overnight, so leftovers make this great for smaller families and individuals as well.
Cannellini beans are one of my favorite foods. That’s probably kind of weird, but it’s true. Beyond being creamy and delicious, they’re so versatile. If you stock them in your cabinet—canned or dried—with just a few other staples, you’ll have vast number of meals at your fingertips any time. This is one of them.
This soup is inspired by one I had at a farm in Tuscany. Fattoria il Poggio sits atop a hill in Montecarlo, Lucca, in the outskirts of San Gimignano. Everything we had there was perfect, but the standout item to me was the soup. It wasn’t the prettiest course. It wasn’t the most complicated. It was simple, rustic, resourceful and delicious.
The funny thing is… somehow we finished the dinner without actually figuring out what the soup was! We didn’t have any menus, as everything was family-style and the dishes were all pre-planned regional specialties.
Except the steak fries. Fairly certain those were to placate potentially picky Americans. I mean… I still partook.
It’s pretty unlike me not to ask, but there was SO much food going around that my intentions were lost when—OH, TAGLIATELLE! Roast pork? Wait, ribs too? Hold up, sausage now?
Anyway, I’m still not entirely certain what the soup was… so let’s put on our detective hats!
What we know about “The Tuscan Soup”:
- It was bean and tomato based
- The beans were pureed, creamy and demure
- Sage might be the main seasoning
- It had some kind of grain
- Olive oil for daaaayys
- That I was too excited to eat and only got terrible photos of it
Exhibit A: terrible photo.
So much of the food that comes to mind when we think of Italy is functional, and origin stories of Tuscan soups are downright utilitarian. They were designed to make the most of what was around to feed as many mouths as possible, but what they’ve evolved into is deliciouuuuus.
Possibility 1 — Ribollita
Of all our contenders, this is the most well known. Ribollita means “reboiled,” which cuts right to the chase. Originally it was last night’s soup reheated, plus stale bread to add bulk and avoid waste. It started out as way to cheaply feed lots of people, but it’s evolved into an intentional staple that generally features white beans, kale and cabbage, tomatoes whatever vegetables are fresh or on hand. It’s like the ultimate kitchen-sweep meal. You can follow a recipe, or just throw in whatever you’ve got following deliciously loose guidelines. A lot of variations puree most of the soup so it’s crazy-thick.
Our soup was much lighter—so appropriate for the blanket of humidity under the July sun, not to mention all the courses to come.
Possibility 2 — Zuppa alla frantoinana, a.k.a. Tuscan bean and vegetable soup
It’s also possible that the soup of the day was zuppa all frantoiana, another resourceful Tuscan soup utilizing “this and that” based on what’s abundant from local harvests—summery beans, vegetables and olive oil, finished with crusty bread. It’s fairly similar to ribollita, if not a variation. The difference as far as I can tell is a heavier focus on vegetables and olive oil vs. bread.
This one’s generally pretty hearty with big chunks of vegetables, sometimes including potatoes, squash, and fennel depending on what’s growing nearby. Wah-waaaah, not our soup.
Possibility 3 — Zuppa di farro (alla lucchese), a.k.a. farro and bean soup
This one is the most structured of the three, following what I’ll call a soup formula. It starts out with an Italian soffritto (dice of onion, carrot and celery), and the body is built with farro cooked in a stew of pancetta, tomatoes and borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans for their pink speckles. It’s finished off with a big drizzle of olive oil, because it would be a crime if it wasn’t.
Winner winner chicken dinner! Maybe? Here’s a delicious-looking recipe for zuppa di farro with photos… I’ll let you decide for yourself, I’ll be over here making some. For comparison.
Who knows though? It may have been something else. I love Italian food, but I’m hardly the world’s foremost expert. If you have other ideas, what are you waiting for, tell me about them! I have serious food FOMO.
If you’ve been there and I’m completely wrong… be gentle, please 😉
Ultimately, I decided to create a recipe for a soup that I thought captured the spirit of our meal, though it’s not exactly a recreation. I used ingredients that were easy to find in my local grocery store, tasted as I went, and let the spirit move me. The spirit of hunger and food lust.
I think that goes with the whole Tuscan vibe though, right? Using what’s around? Making something delicious out of simplicity? Know what’s delicious to me?
Cannellini beans. Tomatoes. Sage. Oregano. Cheeeese. Finish it off with olive oil and bread crumbs.
You know, for authenticity.
So I started with extra virgin olive oil, a soffritto of onion, carrots and celery (yes, same as a mirepoix in French, but with a little more leeway) and some garlic.
This goes back to the “formula” I mentioned. There’s no one formula. Soup is really more like a choose your own adventure food. A suggested order of common ingredient combinations.
Next came the stars of the show, tomatoes and cannellini beans. Lots of them.
Sigh. A beauteous bean.
I used some vegetable broth to spread it out, and seasoned it with the actual Tuscan soup in mind. Plenty of fresh sage and some dried oregano. Next I grated the cheese directly into the soup, which pretty much eliminated the need for salt.
But listen, I need you to use the real cheese here. Not the kind in the can.
If you grate cheese directly from the wedge, it’s going to melt into your soup and make it nutty, earthy and well-seasoned. If you pour the canned kind in, it’s going to clump into a ball and taste like salty pencil shavings stuck in your teeth, then you’ll have to add a bunch of salt to make up for it. If you do use a pre-grated cheese, make sure it’s a good one, and remember that even the best will dry out if it sits in your fridge too long. A wedge will last longer, as will its flavor and texture.
One thing I like to do with a lot of soups is to throw in a few handfuls of spinach or whatever soft baby greens I have on hand. I just like to find ways to get more greens into my system. I mean, why not?