I've just made the most delicious ribollita, the classic Italian soup with as nourishing a list of ingredients as you could hope to find. With its dark kale, tomatoes and beans, it's a real meal in a bowl. Whenever I make this dish, which I think the word 'soup' undersells, it rekindles happy memories of holidays spent in Tuscany when my daughter Maya was young. There was nothing more idyllic than coming home from the market with boxes of deep red tomatoes and other fresh produce, and making a vat of ribollita. The soup is as comforting served at room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil in the summer, as it is dished up piping hot in the chill of winter.

Ribollita

I love making ribollita in January, as I tend to eat less meat this month after the festive celebrations. With the popularity of 'veganuary' and New Year resolutions to eat less meat (or none at all), I'm not alone in putting plants at the centre of my plate at this time. I'm a huge advocate of eating more fruit and vegetables, as the nutrients and fibre they contain have proven health benefits and may reduce our risk of developing serious illness. But suddenly switching up to a vegetable-packed diet does come with a few unwanted effects, especially if you have a sensitive gut, perhaps as a result of cancer treatment. Here are a few tips to help.

Beans and pulses provide essential protein in a plant-based diet but they can cause trapped wind and bloating, which can be extremely painful, especially if you're recovering from surgery or have an overly active gut. Make sure you cook the beans well before you add them to dishes and use just a few - just because a recipe says a particular quantity, you can often tweak it to have a less beany hit. You may find specific beans suit you better than others.

Kale and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables that may help reduce the risk of developing some cancers, but they too can cause wind and bloating. You can cut down the quantity in dishes and add in French beans and root vegetables instead, which are still packed with goodness but should be gentler on your digestion. Fresh mint or fennel tea helps soothe bloating if it occurs.

Boost your iron intake. Beans and lentils, as well as the dark green leafy vegetables, are good sources of iron, which is a key nutrient to watch if you're focusing on plant-based eating. The type of iron (non-haem) they contain is less easily absorbed in the body than the iron in meat sources (haem iron). Vitamin C can help you to absorb iron from plant sources, so add some fresh lemon to a glass of water to sip as you eat, or stir freshly squeezed lime or lemon into a dish just before you serve (lime is wonderful added to a vegetable stir fry and lemon adds a zesty hit to ribollita). Lack of iron can be an issue when you're undergoing cancer treatment, so it's good to think ahead and help your body out by including lots of the lovely sources of plant-based iron in the diet.

Don't fill up on fibre, and watch your portion size. Plant-based diets can be rich in the fibre we know is great for the gut, but eating a lot of fibre can mean we feel full too quickly. If you're feeling unwell and already have a small appetite, it can mean you stop eating before you've taken in all the energy and nutrients you need. You can keep portions small if you add calorie-rich ingredients such as olive, coconut or avocado oils, nut milks and dairy or non-dairy cream, such as coconut cream, or butter. A simple risotto can be made more creamy and calorie rich by stirring in some butter and a little Parmesan cheese at the end of cooking.

Ribollita

This wonderfully chunky Tuscan soup is a complete meal in a bowl. Enjoy it piping hot as a comforting winter warmer or, during the warmer months, serve it at room temperature with a drizzle of green olive oil.

Serves 4
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 stick of celery, chopped
1 dessertspoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
2 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
250g cooked cannellini beans with or 1 x 400g can (reserve cooking or can water)
500ml cooking or can water from the cannellini beans, or vegetable stock
125g sourdough, torn into pieces
75g kale, cavolo nero or Savoy cabbage
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season

Method

  • Saute the onions, carrots, garlic and celery for around 15 minutes, until softened.
  • Stir in the tomatoes and cannellini beans with the reserved water or vegetable stock.
  • Simmer over a low heat for 30 minutes.
  • Add the bread and kale to the soup, stir and season. Simmer for another 15 minutes, adding more water or stock if necessary.
  • Just before serving, add a squeeze of lemon juice to the soup.
  • Serve in bowls, topped with a drizzle of olive oil.

Join our Online Community to talk to other people affected by cancer

Read more on our Community News Blog

Follow Nourish, Jane's Online Community blog