Soup is something I never order in a restaurant. I never really knew why it didn’t appeal to me, but making this one made me realize that it’s because soup is something I can easily make at home. Even if you’re not someone who considers yourself a cook, a simple Celery Root Soup or Potato Leek Soup with just a few ingredients simmered up and blended is pretty hard to mess up.
I found myself with an extra-large head of escarole last week, which is one of my favorite winter greens. Unfortunately, I have a habit of buying too much of anything I like when I see it at the market, although you don’t have a choice with escarole: you have to buy the whole head.
In Paris, heads of escarole lean toward being the size of a small shrub. But they’re so big, they take up most of my shopping basket or bag, so I’ve learned to buy them last.
Fortunately, winter salad greens like this keep well, and it was perfectly fresh this week. When I posted a picture of it online after buying it, a few people were surprised that it was eaten raw. I usually use it in salads, sometimes with nuts, apples, pears, some blue cheese or gorgonzola, a dressing made with a good amount of mustard, or occasionally some walnut or hazelnut oil in the sauce. Romain had never had fruit in a salad and liked the contrast with the slightly bitter greens. (Whew! Because for such a little guy, he’s a pretty tough crowd.)
But I had so many other winter greens that I decided to make soup. I also had some meatballs in the freezer that I made last week because I was craving meatballs; this soup was perfect because I could multitask and use them up.
To further my status as an effective multitasker in that department (I should write a Marie Kondo-like book, The Life-Changing Magic of Using Things Up), I also had a bag of these much-heralded Marcella beans from Rancho Gordo that I brought back from the States.
Of course, people ask me where they can get them in France, and you can’t. But the good news for those who are Stateside is that Steve, the owner, is offering some French varieties of heirloom-type beans. His cassoulet beans are excellent, he’s got flageolets, and he’s now carrying Monette de Vendée beans. (He also just published French Beans: Exploring the Bean Cuisine of France by Georgeanne Brennan.)
This recipe isn’t French but Italian-influenced, a take on Italian Wedding Soup. It’s a simple broth-based bowl of escarole sautéed in garlic, beans, and meatballs, hearty, and warming. I was sort of not in the mood to make a fuss, so I poached the meatballs in the soup rather than cooking them separately, although a few fell apart, which didn’t bother me. (Anything with less clean-up in the kitchen never bothers me.) But you can fry or bake them in advance and add them at the last minute. It’s a great soup to get you through the winter, a wedding, or an overactive purchase of greens.
Feel free to use any meatballs that you wish. I have a meatball recipe here. Depending on the recipe, the meatballs may fall apart if cooked too briskly or if you stir them in the pot. It’s not the end of the world, but if you want to cook them separately (frying them in some olive oil on the stovetop or baking them in the oven), you can add the cooked meatballs when the soup is done. In place of meatballs, sausage slices would be nice instead in this soup.
I cooked my beans, starting with 1 cup (200g) dried beans, simmered in plenty of water, until soft. You can use canned beans, drained. Or you can go another route and add a favorite shape of cooked pasta. If using a paste, add it at the end of To make this soup vegetarian and vegan, use vegetable stock or the cooked bean liquid instead of the chicken stock, and skip the meatballs and cheese added at the end. A few flakes of crushed red pepper would ramp up the flavor. If you save Parmesan rinds for soups, this is the place to use them. Put them in the pot when you add the stock, and they’ll add a lovely richness. (Remove them before serving.)
Servings 6 servings
If you like this recipe, then I would suggest that you should try this recipe too: Best Baked Polenta Sticks Recipe
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