Stone Soup…the Tuscan Way

When my family visited Florence a few years ago, we were quickly enamored with this beautiful city. The amazing vegetable and fruit stands, the architecture, the people and of course, the food.

aaah florence

One evening when we were there, my father in law asked the hotel concierge where he could go to get good grilled fish. She stared at him blankly and composed herself and her words to tell him “Florence is not known for its feesh, it is known for its meat!” Grilled meats, brothy soups , pastas and, famously, beans are what Tuscans cook.

One such example is the deliciously simple ribollita. While this is now a popular dish in Tuscany and beyond, its roots are in the servants homes or in the farmhouse. It reminds me of the children’s book “Stone Soup.”

Once upon a time, somewhere in post-war Eastern Europe, there was a great famine in which people jealously hoarded whatever food they could find, hiding it even from their friends and neighbors. (kinda like what you do with Dove chocolate when you have children in the house). So this folktale tells of a young wayfarer who tricks an old woman into making him a hearty soup, despite her hoarding personality. When she refuses him food, he asks her for a pot of water. Then he puts a stone into it and waits for it to become stone soup. “It’s cooking fast now,” says the hungry young man, “but it would cook faster with some onions.” Soon the old woman has added vegetables, meat bones, barley and butter, musing at the miracle of stone soup.

Like the book, Ribollita soup gets better with each addition of food over time. The history of ribollita, which literally means “reboiled” in Italian, is that servants in the middle ages would make a broth and over a period of two or three days add any bits of leftovers and scraps they could obtain from the big, fat nobles at the castle banquets. Vegetables, beans, kale or spinach, wild herbs, bits of beef, anything that was edible really would be tossed into the broth. Bread was added to thicken the conglomeration and the whole thing was “reboiled” as a hearty meal. Of course as with most soups, the flavors would meld and get better over time, transforming into a yummy dish.

I have my own version of this dish. One cold, wintery day, ( well as wintery as you can get in Phoenix, Arizona,) I ran across a recipe in Sunset magazine for Tuscan Bean Soup. Since I had all the ingredients the Jr’s and I decided to whip it up! It was an updated version of Ribollita from their January 2009 issue. Of course, being the pasta vixen I added PASTA and for Dr. Love, his beloved protein, beef. After all, this is a Tuscan dish and they don’t serve feesh!

The ingredients

I chose to use ditalini (diht-ah-LEE-nee) . These little cuties are short cut pasta and their name literally means ‘little thimbles.’ They are small ring like tubes that I guess could fit like a thimble if you were Tom Thumb. Most people love ditalini because though it is small it is mighty and holds up well in soups and other dishes. And lets face it, it’s really fun to say, makes you feel so Italian. So here is the recipe for my stone soup with Tom Thumb thimbles.

little thimbles

Stone Soup ala Pasta Vixen

Total Time: 50 minutes
Serves: 6 normal people or 4 if there are two teenage boys in the house


  • About 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound organic cooked ground beef (optional)
  • 1/4 pound of ditalini pasta
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped into 1/2-in. pieces
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped into 1-in. pieces
  • 1 1/2 qts. chicken broth (vege broth is good too or just use a stone, tee hee)
  • 1 can (15 oz.) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can 15 oz of diced canned tomatoes plus some juice
  • 2 cups rough chopped Swiss chard
  • 4 cups rough-textured day-old bread (such as ciabatta), ripped into 1 1/2-in. pieces (I used a whole grain artisan crusty Italian bread)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • one bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • Wedge of parmesan cheese for grating (optional)


1. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add carrots and celery and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes.

in you go my little goodies

Stir in broth, wine, beans, beef, salt and pepper and herbs then bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes, ditalini and chard and simmer another 20 minutes, covered.

mmmm...smells divine

2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°. Lay bread pieces on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toast in oven until slightly golden, about 10 minutes. Set croutons aside.

3. Divide soup among serving bowls and top each with a few warm croutons. Grate parmesan directly over soup if you like. add a drizzle of good olive oil too, yum.

Oh me, Oh my, heart warming, soulful goodness in a bowl!

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2 Responses to “Stone Soup…the Tuscan Way”

  1. Lorie Says:

    Wonderful pictures! Love the fresh produce picture in Florence. Wow, wish we could have that here.

    This recipe is sort of like the Pasta Figoli (sp?) that I have. The slight difference is the swiss chard. I will have to try this. Very healthy and wonderful on a cold night.

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