Sometimes in our busy lives we want a quick meal but we still want it to be healthy, delicious and if it is economical so much the better. Italians have been cooking a simple peasant dish that I and so many others love, Minestra de Scarola e Fagioli or better known to us as escarole and beans. Minestra is a medium to thick and hearty soup that usually contains vegetables. This dish can also be made into a Zuppa or soup by simply adding more broth.
Many families have their version of this recipe, sometimes passed down from generation to generation. Changes have been made with our changing times. Peasants used to make this from wild greens foraged from their fields, using water as the liquid, along with dried beans. Today we can go to our market or garden for escarole and use canned beans and broth for convenience. You can make a pot of beans from scratch for this dish but it really isn’t necessary. As I said, sometimes you want something quick to prepare. A bowl of escarole and beans along with a crusty piece of bread makes a satisfying meal.
Escarole and Beans / Minestra de Scarola e Fagioli
- 2 – 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 3 slices of pancetta, bacon, or prosciutto, diced
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 – 3 fresh garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 c. white wine (optional)
- 1 can chicken or vegetable broth
- 3 15 oz. cans cannellini beans
- 1 head of washed escarole, cut into 2 -3 inch pieces
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp. or more crushed red pepper
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 handful pecorino romano or parmesan cheese plus extra to sprinkle
- Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle over each bowl
In a dutch oven or other large pot, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the pancetta until it has rendered its fat, then remove from pot and save. Add the spices to the oil and stir for minute. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until soft but not brown. Add wine to pot and stir up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the broth to the pan and two of the cans of beans. Add the reserved pancetta back to the pot.
Let the beans cook until they start to break and thicken the liquid. At this point add the escarole. This will have to be done a little at a time, stirring and adding more as the greens wilt. Add the remaining can of beans and let simmer 10 to 15 minutes until the escarole is tender but not mushy. If the mixture becomes too dry, just add water.
Taste for seasoning and then add a large handful of cheese.
Plate into bowls, sprinkle with additional cheese to taste, and drizzle your best extra virgin olive over the top.
This is how I make this wonderful hearty dish. My husband’s mother made her broth from ham hocks. Her’s was a brothy soup of escarole and beans, with the hocks served on the side. Many people sauté the escarole in olive oil and then add the other ingredients. Others make this an even heartier meal by adding sausage. By eliminating the meat and using vegetable broth, this is a wonderful vegetarian dish.
However you make this dish, I hope that you will enjoy it. Buon Appetito!