Many Tuscan zuppa (thick soup) such as the ribollita and tomato bread soup I had in Florence originates from the humble cucina povera, or poor kitchen, method of cooking. Cucina povera refers to the use of simple ingredients that are available on-hand to create a fantastic “something” out of nothing.
Ribollita means “reboiled”, which is a direct reflection of how the dish is made– by combining, reheating, and flavoring leftover ingredients. Sort of like inventing all kinds of dishes after Thanksgiving… turkey sandwiches, turkey salad, turkey soup…you name it. However, ribollita originated from peasants in the Tuscan region who had to be inventive with all the scraps they had. In Italy, meat was traditionally reserved for the elite, particularly during the Middle Ages, when vegetables were considered to be humble foods that could only be served to aristocrats if accompanied by meat*. The main ingredients in ribollita usually comprise of leftover bread, carrots, cabbage, cannellini beans, onions, and cavolo nero, or a type of Tuscan kale, which results in a slightly bitter taste in the soup. It could also contain leftover minestrone or vegetable soup.
* Capatti, Alberto and Montanari, Massimo. Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.