The days are beginning to close in earlier as we march forward towards winter. This week has had a particularly autumnal feel about it. Hot stews, soups and comfort food are becoming very attractive. I couldn't think of a better way to warm our little hearts than to make a ribollita.

Ribollita is a traditional Tuscan peasant dish, dating back to the middle ages. It is made with bread, beans and vegetables and literally means to 're-boil'. It is best made a day in advance and left overnight for the flavours to develop. It is more of a hearty stew than a soup, thickened by the addition of bread. I prefer a slightly less traditional approach, mine is much chunkier, a bit more of a soup and the addition of lemon juice and fennel seeds give it special character too. Soggy bread has never worked for me so instead I serve it with large toasted croutons that will sink in, absorb the broth and retain some crunch. Cavolo Nero is a member of the kale family from the Tuscan region and features prominently in most recipes. If you can't come by it, ordinary curly kale, savoy cabbage or winter greens also work a treat. Just before serving I add freshly crushed garlic for extra zing, but if this isn't for you, the ribollita will still taste as good without it. A big pot kept on the stove for a couple of days to be reheated again and again, the indulgence of winter is upon us.

Recipe (serves 4-6)

2 large carrots, chopped or diced
3 sticks of celery, chopped
1 small red onion, sliced
400g tinned or fresh chopped tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, whole
200g cavolo nero, roughly chopped
250- 300g cannellini beans
1 Lt good vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed (optional)

In a large heavy saucepan, saute onion, celery, carrot and fennel seeds in olive oil until soft but not brown. Add tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. Add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Add beans and boil again for about half an hour. Add kale and allow to cook through. Leave overnight and reheat the next day. Before serving add crushed garlic and boil for a couple of minutes. Serve with toasted croutons or a good sourdough and a swirl of olive oil.

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