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Bean Soup With Escarole

Bean Soup With Escarole
T. Susan Chang for NPR /

This recipe is from Cucina del Sole by Nancy Harmon Jenkins (Morrow 2007). Any white bean will do — navy, great northern, canellini. I think the canellini tend to be the most tender, while the navy beans hold their shape nicely.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 cup dried white beans, soaked for 6 hours or overnight

1 large bunch escarole (about 1 pound)

1 or 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 crisp green celery stalk, coarsely chopped

5 or 6 flat-leaf parsley sprigs, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive, plus oil for serving

12 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 dried red chili (optional)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toasted slices of bread (sliced ciabatta or other rustic, open-crumb bread is particularly nice), for serving

Drain the beans, put them in a saucepan and add fresh water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring to a simmer over low heat, cover and cook 40 to 60 minutes, or until beans are tender. Drain the beans, reserving the bean liquid. Measure the bean liquid and add enough water to make 2 1/2 cups.

Rinse and core the escarole. Chop the leaves into pieces about 1 inch long. Add them to the saucepan in which you cooked the beans, cover the pan and cook the escarole over gentle heat in the water clinging to its leaves until it is tender. Be careful not to let it scorch, adding a little boiling water to the pan if it starts to burn. When it is tender, set it aside with any liquid remaining in the pan.

Chop together the garlic, celery and parsley to make about 1/2 cup finely minced aromatics. In a small skillet, cook the aromatics gently in the olive oil for about 10 minutes or until they give off fragrance but are not brown. Stir in the halved tomatoes and continue cooking until the tomatoes have shriveled somewhat and have given off a lot of juice.

Add the vegetable mixture to the escarole in the saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Break up the chili and add it, then stir in the beans, plus the bean juice and water. Bring to a simmer and season with sea salt and pepper. Let all the ingredients simmer together very gently while you toast the bread.

To serve, place a toasted bread slice in the bottom of each soup plate, then spoon the hot soup over. Serve with additional olive oil and grated pecorino or caciocavallo cheese.

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