December 27th, 2012

From (Under) an Escarole Leaf


On fleet and chilly foot, this year is surely making its exit. I trust that your holidays have been full of joy and camaraderie, and good food shared with those you love. Ours have been exceptional, heralded by the birth of my first grandchild, Zachary James. He was due to arrive on the first of December, but he chose—wisely, no doubt– to wait until the 12th to make his wondrous entrance. For parents who married on 10-10-10, his 12-12-12 birthdate is all the more auspicious.

I was privileged to be a part of the birth team, and witness his entry. I was thrilled to be one of the first to caress his pink cheeks and welcome him into this strange new world.

A week after his arrival, I returned to my own home after a month-long absence to put Christmas together. A hectic pace, but the tree got trimmed, presents got wrapped, the beef got roasted, and the chocolate mousse trifle got mounded high in the bowl.

But what I’d like to share with you today veers away from the indulgences of the season.

It is a healthy, hearty dish using Escarole.


This great green bouquet resembles lettuce in appearance, but belongs to the Endive family. (The sprawling head made me think of the old wives tale imparted to children about where babies come from…) Also known as broadleaf endive, Bavarian endive, or scarola, it is one of its less bitter members. Escarole can be eaten raw in salads, but it is really luscious when braised into soups or stews.


I’ve never prepared these greens in any form before now. But the forces aligned. Friend and farmer Tally May of Fresh Harvest Coop had grown splendid rows of escarole, market ready on my return. A vivid description of this recipe from my cousin Cathy and her husband John (given as they drove me to the airport!) left no doubt that a pot of escarole with fusilli and cannellinis would be simmering on my stovetop soon.


It is a traditional Italian dish, which, depending on the amount of liquid that you choose to add, becomes either a stewy pasta or a robust soup. Either way, you’ll want to serve it in a bowl, with a spoon and hunk of bread to sop up all the sumptuous broth.


It’s a garlic-friendly dish, too. Don’t be timid with those cloves!

Highly seasoned cannellini beans are also key. I used Rancho Gordos mega-meaty, super creamy beans, which I prepared the day before. If you use canned beans, be sure to drain and rinse them before simmering them in good olive oil, garlic, and bay leaf.

Cathy also insists–and rightfully so–on using DeCecco brand fusilli. It’s an excellent pasta: full-flavored, with terrific texture. Those tight curls capture the broth while remaining resilient in the sauce.


Here’s a trick I used to add more body to the broth. I reserved a cup of cooked beans and pureed them before stirring them into the pot. The sauce becomes almost silken. And the greens themselves maintain integrity in the braise–toothsome, juicy, with a pleasant hint of bitterness.

In the waning days of 2012, we’ve been enjoying our bowls of beans, pasta, and escarole. Bill calls this peasant food, and he means it in the best possible way. Simple. Soothing. Nutritious. Satisfying. You really couldn’t want for anything more.

Wishing you all the benefits of peasant food in the coming year–

Many thanks for your continued visits to Good Food Matters.


2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 head escarole, cored, washed, and chopped into ribbons
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups vegetable broth (you may use chicken broth if you prefer)

3 cups cooked cannellini beans (recipe below)

1/2 lb. dried fusilli (De Cecco is a preferred brand)

1/2 cup fresh grated pecorino-romano

In a large stockpot set on medium heat, warm olive oil and saute garlic and onions until translucent.
Add chopped escarole and stir well to coat the leaves.
Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Stir, allowing the heat to collapse the leaves.
Pour vegetable broth over the escarole. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Boil fusilli in lightly salted water until al dente–about 9 minutes. Drain.
Puree one cup of cannellinis, and return to bean pot. (discard bay leaves)
Combine pasta and beans (whole, pureed, and liquid) with the braised escarole. Toss well.
Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
Serve with hunks of crusty bread.

Makes 6 generous bowls.


1 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked for 3 hours (or overnight) and rinsed (Rancho Gordo’s cannellinis are big and meaty!)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup diced onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves

Heat olive oil in a 3 quart saucepan set on medium. Stir in garlic and onions. Add salt and black pepper, and saute until translucent.
Add cannellinis, stirring well so that the beans are coated with oil.
Pour water over the beans–enough to cover them by two inches.
Stir in bay leaves and red pepper flakes.
Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
Skim off any scum that may accumulate as the beans cook.
Cook, partially covered for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if needed.
Cannellinis will retain their structure, but will creamy to the bite. Discard bay leaves.


Nanoo and Zachary

Five days old, Zachary in my arms

Sleepy Zach

Sleepy Dreamy Babe

Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes

27 Responses to “From (Under) an Escarole Leaf”
  1. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best Says:

    Congratulations Nancy! He is beautiful! Life must be so magical for your daughter and son-in-law right now. This stew is the perfect way to start the new year!

  2. Rach Says:

    Welcome bellissimo Zachary! and loads of love, good wishes and general joy to you all. Now this soup is exactly what I would like to eat today. Actually I would happily eat this soup most days. It will be made. Rx

  3. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    Wonderful news, Nancy.May Zachary’s life be filled with blessings, love and joy. Congratulations.

  4. ernestine lawson Says:

    Nancy, congratulations to you.
    Zachary is beautiful
    and I love his name.
    This soup sounds so good for the winter
    and picking up the ingredients today.
    Thank you
    Best Wishes for the New Year..

  5. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Dear Christine, Rachel, Michele, and Ernestine,
    Thank you so much for your best wishes for Zachary. Becoming a grandmother is a marvel indeed! a new life role that comes with a very different, at this time indescribable feeling that “wonderful” does not begin to express.

  6. Kath Says:

    Oh how wonderful, and for him to arrive on the 12/12/12 too. He is so beautiful. You must be very, very proud and pleased with him.

  7. Maggie Says:

    Hey Nance! What a beautiful baby Zachary is! I’m just so happy for you and yours! Oh, the dish looks great, too – I might have to put on a pot of beans!

  8. Magda Says:

    Nancy, congratulations on your beautiful grandson!!! I wish you and your family all the best and may the new year bring you even more joys!
    Your stew looks amazing. I have never tried escarole before but I like the fact that it’s less bitter than other similar greens. I have to search for it!

  9. Kathy Henderson Says:

    A delicious recipe! The biggest congratulations on the birth of baby Zachary!! He is so beautiful!!

  10. Tracy Says:

    Oh, congratulations! And, you know, that’s my kind of meal.

  11. rhonda Says:

    Yum, that looks great….and congratulations!!!! that little boy is going to know some “good eating”!!!!

  12. Karen (Back Road Journal) Says:

    Congratulations on the birth of your grandson…he is beautiful. I know your whole family must be so excited. Your dish is a favorite of mine.

  13. Tammy Says:

    What a wonderful Christmas present for you and your family! Sweet Zachary and you’re so right about those dates. I love beans and greens type meals – so easy and so hearty and what a filling dish to welcome the new year. Blessings to you and yours.

  14. K-Run Says:

    Woweeeee how awesome and Congratulations on the new arrival. Love the pictures and really love the recipe sounds scrumptious. I can’t wait to see more pictures of Zachary and his Grannie Nance :)

  15. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    oh my word! look at you and Zachary! What a precious little boy. he is just beautiful and I am so happy for you and your family! I love this soup and it looks like the perfect dinner on these cold nights we are finally getting here in texas!

  16. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    Welcome little Zachary! This soup is just what I need. Looking forward to more green in January. Thanks, Nancy (Grandma).

  17. Angie@Angie's Recipes Says:

    Congratulations, Nancy, your sleepy boy is so sweet ;-))
    I like escarole in salads, but mostly in the stir-fries with garlic and chilli rings. Must try yours in soup. Looks very delicious too.
    Happy New Year!

  18. Teresa, foodonfifth Says:

    I am just so happy for you. Zachery is one lucky little boy…you can tell he is really relaxed and loving life already. Beautiful grandmother and beautiful soup. What more could we mortals ask for? Happy New Years in all your new and ongoing endeavors.

  19. sonia Says:

    Hi There, This post is looking great! It was a real delight to see and learn so much from your each and every post. Hope to see more of your creative endeavours in the new year. Wish you and your family a very Happy and Blessed New Year!!! Happy Holidays :)
    Love & Regards, Sonia !!!

  20. FOODESSA Says:

    Nancy…ohh…how warm and beautiful you look together with your Grandson. Zachary seems like he would fit snuggly in that gorgeous ‘Scarola’…which is BTW…one very used salad in my ‘cucina’. You must have some Italian running in those veins of yours…this recipe fits my menu perfectly!

    Again, congrats…and what a fantastic way to start a New Year…all the very best ;o)

    Ciao for now,

  21. Nic@diningwithastud Says:

    He’s adorable :) congratulations!!! This soup is perfect for winter. Deliciously hearty.

  22. Juliana Says:

    Congratulations Nancy, your beautiful grandson Zachary…
    The soup looks delicious, so comforting and I love the escarole in it…perfect for this evening dinner.
    Happy New Year and have a great week ahead!

  23. Beth Says:

    Congratulations to you and to Zachary! What an exciting time for you.

  24. Nicole Says:

    A hearty, belated congratulations on the birth of your grandson Zachary! What an amazing birthday. And I know it must have been incredible to SEE him be born. My sister was part of my labor support and it was life changing to have her there to be part of it all! This soup, and the photographs are unbelievable. Great job! The soup looks like it would cure any case of winter blues! Best wishes, Nancy!

  25. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Thank you, friends, for all your good wishes and comments. We cannot wait to go and visit Zachary and family—soon! Babies change so quickly during these early weeks and months. We don’t want to miss out.

  26. Nancy Says:

    Hi Nancy, I am catching up on my holiday-delayed blog reading and wanted to send my belated congratulations on the birth of your grandson! Zachary is such a handsome little guy! (And, escarole is one of my favorite greens, so thanks for sharing this belly-warming recipe!)

  27. Jalabi Says:

    I have been cooking this reicpe since you first posted it and it is absolutely my favorite. I have made a couple of additions so the reicpe has evolved a little, but I still enjoy the original as well.For the beans I add a link or two of Italian sausage and then slice the onions in super thin rings and let them soak up the flavors of the sausage. I leave the carrot out when I do this variation as well.Thank you so much for sharing or I’d have been forced to use canned beans which makes me recoil a little

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