White Bean and Escarole Soup

By | March 6, 2011

So here I am back in Chicago, totally disoriented after more than a month of speaking trying to speak Spanish, living in someone else’s home, waking up to sunshine, hummingbirds, calla lilies and birds of paradise in the yard, 85-degree days and relaxing with margaritas and cervezas in the evening.

Now I have to stop and think about where I keep the coffee, how to change the station on the car radio and what kind of shoes to wear when it’s snowing.

But one thing I know is that I love soups, whether it’s Azteca soup in San Miguel or something much heartier like this White Bean and Escarole soup back in el norte.

In honor of Mark Bittman’s ode to soups, here is one of my favorite soups, especially this time of year.  Escarole, if you’re not familiar with it, is a hearty Italian spinach.  You can substitute Swiss chard or spinach if you don’t have or can’t find escarole.

As with most FoodBeest recipes, you can always experiment. You can free free to substitute what you have, what’s available, what you like. Or omit what you don’t like. What we’re providing here is a very good basic soup – the way we like it — but there is very little here that is set in concrete.

What You Need to Make White Bean and Escarole Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces diced pancetta or prosciutto (you can use bacon if that’s what you have – or, if you prefer something vegetarian or vegan, skip this all together)
1/2 cup diced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 oil-packed anchovy filets (not a problem to omit these if your soup is vegetarian)
1 teaspoon minced thyme leaves (rosemary is good also)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 head escarole, (about 1 pound) trimmed, washed, and coarsely chopped
Two 15 ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup chopped canned whole tomatoes
5 cups homemade, canned or boxed chicken broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

How to Make White Bean and Escarole Soup

In a soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat, add the pancetta, and sauté for about 5 minutes. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onion and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, anchovy filets (don’t worry-they dissolve into the oil and DO NOT give the soup a fishy taste – only a distinct depth of flavor), thyme or rosemary, and pepper flakes; sauté for 3 minutes more. The garlic, onion, herbs and anchovy will give off a heavenly aroma at this point.

Add the escarole, stirring until wilted, about 2 minutes more. Add the beans, tomato, broth, and salt; bring to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the reserved pancetta and season with salt and pepper.

This soup is hearty, flavorful, loaded with fiber and nutrients. You win from every aspect.

Serve drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and/or sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan and a good crusty bread.

It’s not necessary; if you’d like, after the soup is finished, you can add a flaked grilled tuna steak or a drained can of albacore tuna (not the chunk-light stuff that looks like cat food).  I prefer the tuna packed in olive oil, which is how the Italians do it.

Yield: 6 servings
Cook Time: 30 minutes

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