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Escarole and Bean Soup (Minestra di scarola e fagioli)

Oh so warming! So satisfying! And so easy to make! This soup uses fresh escarole that many Italians harvest well into the late fall. While I haven't planted any, I am always grateful for my sister's thoughtfulness when she delivers bunches so fresh that the moist dirt is still clinging to the outer leaves. A member of the chicory family, escarole's distinct bitterness is tamed with proper cooking. Unlike most other greens used in soups, escarole maintains its rainbow of green hues and lends a delicate flavour and a long list of nutrients. For a truly memorable soup, you must use exceptional ingredients. For this reason, I would strongly encourage cooking your own beans as their flavour is so much better than canned. My version varies a little as it reflects my mother-in-law's influence with its garlic-infused olive oil and generous helping of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. I know my mother would prefer her authentic version, allowing the mild-tasting escarole to take centre stage.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Appetizer, Lunch, Main Course, Soup
Cuisine Italian
Servings 8 people

Ingredients
  

To cook beans:

  • 2 cups dried Navy beans or cannellini beans (or 2 cans cooked beans)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tbsp salt

To cook escarole:

  • 4 large heads fresh escarole
  • 8 Cups water

To cook rice:

  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ tbsp salt

To make soup:

  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 8 cups water
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • fresh hot pepper, to taste (or hot red pepper flakes)
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Instructions
 

Cook the beans:

  • Instant Pot Method: Place the beans in the insert and cover with water. Secure lid and follow the instructions of the Instant Pot. I use high pressure for about 19 minutes (slow-release) for cannellini beans. Stir in salt, only after the beans are cooked. The cooked beans should hold their shape and be soft and buttery. If you prefer, you can use canned beans, drained and rinsed.

Cook the escarole:

  • Trim the escarole by removing any discoloured leaves or blemishes. Wash very well in cold water, rinsing several times.
  • Rough chop the escarole into 1 cm wide pieces. If the centre stalk is tough, either remove or cut in half to aid in cooking. Set aside.
  • Bring a large pot of water to boil. Carefully add the escarole and stir. The water should just cover the escarole. Place lid on pot and return to a boil. Reduce heat to allow the escarole to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the escarole is well-cooked. Then, taste the cooking water. If it is only slightly bitter, then you can either use tongs or a spider strainer to remove the cooked escarole and discard the remaining water or keep as much of the cooking water you like, depending on your preference for the characteristic bitterness. Personally, I use the cooking water that pools from the escarole lifted from the simmering pot. Set escarole aside.

Cook the rice:

  • While the escarole is cooking, prepare the rice. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add salt and rice. Stir and place lid back on the pot. Reduce heat to simmer for about 15 minutes or until rice is tender but not mushy.

Assemble the soup:

  • Smash the garlic cloves or slice. Cut a few slices of hot pepper. Pour olive oil in a large soup pot and add both ingredients. Stir to soften. Once the garlic begins to turn colour, then add water and salt. Return lid to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 - 10 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and use a spider strainer to remove the garlic and hot pepper.
  • Carefully add the cooked escarole and stir.
  • Stir in the cooked beans, being careful to not crush them.
  • Return lid and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Taste for salt and adjust seasoning.
  • To serve, spoon a few tablespoons of hot rice in a bowl and ladle the steaming soup. Add a generous amount of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve hot. Any remaining soup can be stored in the refrigerator. The soup tends to taste even better the next day.

Video

Notes

The true beauty of this soup is its simplicity, in both the ingredients and technique. You may wish to add other ingredients and I am sure that the resulting soup will be delicious. Just realize that you will be crossing the line of a very traditional soup from Calabria.
Keyword beans, Escarole, olive oil