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Escarole and Bean Soup

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Escarole and Bean Soup

 

1/2 lb dry cannellini beans or other white beans
1/2 large prosciutto bone or smoked ham bone
1/4 cup pepperoni or soppressata sausage, chopped
1/4 teaspoon each basil, oregano, red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves (remove before serving)
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
sea salt, to taste
4-5 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs fresh escarole, washed
4 quarts cold water or chicken broth (more if needed)

Measure out approximately half of a 1 lb bag of dry white beans (cannellini, great northern, navy beans or baby limas may be used for different variations). Pick over beans, discarding any imperfect ones and wash in cold running water.

Cover with water and soak overnight, or bring to a boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat and allow to soak for 1-2 hours.

In a stockpot or Dutch oven, sauté chopped pepperoni or soppresato sausage in olive oil along with whole, peeled garlic cloves. When garlic cloves have taken on a slightly roasted appearance, mash them into the oil using the tines of a fork.

Add the salt, herbs and the soaked beans, cold water or chicken broth, and the proscuitto or smoked ham bone.

Bring to a boil for 1-2 minutes, then reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook for several hours, skimming surface as necessary to keep broth clear.

When beans are tender, and soup has reduced in volume enough to become flavorful, add washed escarole leaves, (torn into pieces) and turn up the heat slightly (but not to boiling), and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until escarole leaves are tender.

While the escarole is cooking, prepare 1/2 lb spaghetti or linguine (broken into pieces) according to the package directions; drain. Add spaghetti to soup when escarole is tender.

Season to taste with salt and cracked pepper and a fresh pinch of oregano. A few of the beans may be crushed to a puree and added back to soup to thicken slightly, if desired.

Variation: This soup is authentically made with a whole prosciutto bone and without pepperoni or sausage being added, but the prosciutto bones have become more difficult to obtain. Because of this, when we manage to find a prosciutto bone, we saw it into 3 segments for multiple usages and simmer the soup a little bit longer! (The other 2 prosciutto bone segments are stored in the freezer for another day.) The pepperoni or soppressata sausage helps to supplement the flavor (especially needed when a smoked ham bone is substituted for prosciutto).

The trick in making this soup is in timing the addition of the escarole. The soup must have developed sufficient flavor before adding the escarole and spaghetti. Taste the soup and give it more time to develop flavor, if needed, before adding the greens. It won't hurt to add more garlic or other seasonings as the soup develops, if you feel it needs a little something. But keep in mind that the appeal of this soup is a simplicity of flavor and too much complexity is not the goal.

The greens should not be overcooked, but just tender. The spaghetti is cooked separately so as not to add too much extra starch.

Serve with grilled crusty Italian bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil (this is "dunked" into the soup!).

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