This recipe was given to me by my very good friend and outstanding chef Joe Romanowski, who owned Bay Avenue Trattoria in Highlands with his beautiful wife Maggie. Joe was a master chef who had a major influence on the careers of many chefs that work at the Jersey shore.

Unfortunately after losing his restaurant in Hurricane Sandy, and a battle with cancer, Joe passed away a few years ago. His talents, friendship, and camaraderie are sorely missed. In his honor, The Joe Romanowski Culinary Education Scholarship was founded and we've had several fundraisers through the years to support it. One of them was a cook-off in 2013 with the one and only Dennis Malloy. This delicious soup was part of my submission that evening and we ended up winning. Dennis is no easy opponent, his dishes were amazing. He beat me in the entree category, but I was able to pull off the overall win.

NJ 101.5 Cook-Off Rematch
Photo Credit: Kira Buxton

Here's my award-winning recipe for Ribollita Soup. It's the perfect starter for a big holiday meal with the ones you love. Enjoy it!

You'll need:

6 cups cannellini beans (washed & drained)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups diced zucchini
1 1/2 cups diced onion
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced pancetta (about a 1/4 lb)
3Tb minced garlic
1/2 head savoy cabbage (washed & cut into 1 inch chunks)
2 cups crushed Italian tomatoes with juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 cups spinach leaves
10 cups chicken broth
4 cups cubed day old bread (the crustier the better)
2lb piece of parmigiano rind or 1 cup grated Romano
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

How to put it together:

Over medium flame, heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Add all the hard vegetables, garlic and pancetta. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the cabbage tomatoes, basil and spinach. Add the chicken broth and a good pinch of red pepper flakes, simmer for 20 minutes. Add the beans, bread, cheese rinds. Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Ladle into bowls, dust with Romano cheese and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with some nice bread to help mop up all the goodness!

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