Summer has turned to fall, and fall is slowly easing its way into winter, bringing with it an array of winter greens — the usual suspects like kale, collards, and chard, along with lesser-known varieties such as tatsoi, escarole, mizuna, and pac-choy.  Have you tried any of the these less-mainstream greens?  I get excited when I see them (I know, weird).

Picked up a few bunches of escarole at the farmers’ market over the weekend.  I don’t see escarole very often, so was eager to snatch up a few bunches.  As you can see in the photo below, escarole bears a striking resemblance to romaine lettuce.  Unlike romaine lettuce, which is a member of the sunflower family, escarole is in the chicory family, along with the likes of endive, frisee (curly endive), raddichio (chioggia and treviso), dandelion, and puntarelle.  Generally speaking, chicories tend to be more bitter and have sturdier, less delicate leaves compared to the lettuces, making them the perfect ingredient for stews.  Most iterations I’ve come across for this dish call for a much smaller quantity of escarole, but I say, get a little crazy, and throw it all in, one whole large bunch.

If you can’t find escarole, you could substitute other greens in the chicory family; kale would also be a suitable replacement.  I added lamb sausage [spiced with rosemary and mint], which goes well with this rustic, earthy stew; though pork or turkey sausage would do the job.  I like to kick up the heat quite a bit by adding a generous amount of red pepper flakes, but that’s entirely up to you.

Hearty, comforting, satisfying, and incredibly easy to prepare, what more could a hungry stomach desire? Finish with a grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano, a side of crusty bread, a glass of wine (always a given in my household), and kick back and enjoy….

Escarole and White Bean Soup

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, medium dice
1/2 pound (lamb, pork, turkey) sausage, casings removed
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 head of escarole, chopped into 1-inch thick pieces
2 (15 oz) cans white beans, such as Cannellini, Great Northern, drained and rinsed; or 1 cup dried white [equal to 3 cups cooked] beans, picked over, soaked 8 hours (or overnight), drained, rinsed, and cooked about 1 hour, until tender
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Red pepper flakes to taste
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Parmigiano Reggiano, for grating

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and saute until tender, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the sausage, cook 5-6 minutes, breaking the sausage up into bite-size pieces with a wooden spoon.  Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute.  Add the escarole in batches, sauteing until it begins to wilt.  Stir in the beans, tomatoes, and rosemary, and toss with the sausage and escarole.  Add the stock, season with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  Cover and cook until warmed through, about 8-10 minutes. Mix in the vinegar.  Ladle into individual bowls, sprinkle with  Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Serve with a hunk of crusty bread.

Note: I prefer the texture of dried beans, though, in a pinch, you could easily substitute canned beans.

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