This warm and creamy recipe for escarole and white beans with pancetta makes the perfect hearty soup for a cold winter night. Serve it with crusty bread for dipping and sprinkle it with parmesan cheese for more of an Italian feel.
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We’ve eaten a lot of escarole when traveling in Italy. Although it is not as common in American cooking, that is changing. This recipe for escarole and beans has a bit of an Italian feel to it with the addition of parmesan cheese and pancetta.
Escarole and white beans make a great pairing because they both pack a punch of protein and fiber. There’s also a bit of sweetness to the Italian white beans and pancetta, which offsets the bitterness of the escarole.
Check out our other Italian-inspired recipes:
What Is Escarole
Escarole is a type of leafy green, that looks a little like something in the lettuce family. It actually is part of the chicory family. This makes it more similar to endive and frisee.
Whereas frisee is best for salads and doesn’t really cook up well, escarole is more flexible. Escarole can be eaten raw or cooked.
How To Cook Escarole
Escarole can be eaten both raw and cooked. There is a little bit of a bitter flavor to the raw vegetable, which is why I prefer to cook escarole. If you do want to make a salad from escarole, focus on the lighter colored, inner leaves, which are less bitter than the darker exterior leaves.
Cooking escarole is pretty easy. Before cooking, give it a quick rinse just like you would any other leafy vegetable. The easiest way to cook escarole is to saute it up in olive oil and a bit of garlic. It’s a great veggie side dish for chicken or steak.
I like adding escarole into soups and stews or adding it to pasta dishes.
The Bean Bites Pro Tip
This escarole and beans recipe is perfect for the winter months, when it is more common to find escarole at grocery stores or speciality food stores. Look for it near the leafy greens.
Escarole Health Benefits
Escarole packs more of a health punch than lettuce, with more vitamins and minerals. This is particularly true when served raw. Escarole is high in fiber and low in calories, which makes escarole with beans a perfect pairing. It’s also a good source for vitamin A and folate.
Key Ingredients For This White Bean And Escarole Soup
The base for this escarole white bean soup recipe packs a lot of protein into one pot. In addition to escarole, we used canned cannellini beans. Cannellini beans are an Italian bean also known as a white kidney bean because of their shape.
It’s also possible to use dried beans and then soak them overnight.
Chicken broth forms the base of the soup, but vegetable broth can be used. For this recipe, I used pre-made chicken broth but you can use chicken bouillon as well.
Add in onion, garlic, and carrot for a holy trinity of veggie flavor. The thing is, only the carrots will make their way into the final soup, which is a bit unique. It’s also great for people like me who don’t really like onions.
Check out our recipe for Instant Pot Italian Wedding Soup With Cannellini Beans.
Additional Ingredients And Seasonings
Seasoning in this escarole and bean soup recipe comes from salt, pepper, bay leaf, and crushed red pepper flakes.
Acidity comes from the diced tomatoes used in the soup as well as a spritz of lemon juice at the end.
Cooking With Pancetta
The fat in the dish comes from pancetta and olive oil. You can usually find pancetta, an Italian cured meat, in either sliced or diced forms.
To make this dish vegetarian, skip the pancetta and use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.
What Cheese To Use
The parmesan adds a creaminess. I used domestic (American) parmesan, which is a perfectly good alternative to Parmigiano Reggiano when cooking.
I like to save the properly aged Parmigiano Reggiano for eating on its own. Be sure to buy a chunk of parmesan with a rind, or thicker edge, to add into the soup.
How To Make Escarole And Beans
If using dry beans, pre-soak the beans overnight. Otherwise, rinse the canned beans in cold water.
In a Dutch Oven, combine beans, broth, and ¼ cup olive oil. Cover with cold water. Add onions, carrots, whole garlic cloves, bay leaf, and parmesan rind. Simmer for two hours. Remove the onion, garlic, bay leaf, and what remains of the rind. Let the carrot remain.
About 30 minutes before the beans are done, heat ¼ cup olive oil with minced garlic and pancetta. If you buy diced pancetta, just add it in. If you buy sliced pancetta, place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes beforehand to make it easier to slice into strips.
Slowly add the diced tomatoes. Start with about a tablespoon of tomatoes and be careful to watch for spray back from the pancetta and oil. Add salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. After about 15 minutes, add escarole and toss to cover. Once escarole starts to wilt turn off the heat.
Once everything is done, combine in the dutch oven to warm. Add a bit of fresh-squeezed lemon juice and stir
Tips For Making White Beans And Escarole
Because I use a few ingredients in this recipe that are maybe not all that common, here are some more tips on how to get this white bean escarole soup just right.
Cooking With Pancetta
Pancetta is found in most grocery stores in either diced or sliced form. The diced form is a little easier to cook with because you can just add it right into the skillet.
I like using sliced pancetta because I find it more flavorful. It can be a bit more difficult to work with, though, because it is so soft.
I put the package of pancetta in the freezer about a half-hour before I want to use it. When I remove it from the package, I roll it up. Then, I slice it with a sharp knife.
When I add it to the oil, I break it up a bit more so that in the end there are small strips of pancetta in the pan that start to crisp.
When adding the tomatoes, I usually add about a tablespoon of tomatoes first to allow it to mix with the pancetta and oil. Be careful because you might get some oil splashback.
Cooking With Escarole
I used a little less than the full two heads of escarole for this recipe. It seems like a lot, but it cooks down a lot smaller. It reacts like spinach or kale this way.
I cut off the base of the escarole and left about an inch or so above the base. Then, I sliced up the escarole but left it in pretty chunky pieces.
Add the crushed red pepper to the tomatoes before the escarole. I find that adding red pepper to green, leafy vegetables makes the greens a little spicier than needed.
I added a large handful of escarole at a time and coated it in the tomato and pancetta mix. To add it all in at one time is fine, but you will need a very large skillet.
- 2 15 ounce cans cannellini beans
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 cup olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
- 1 large yellow onion - quartered
- 2 carrots - sliced
- 6 garlic cloves - 4 whole, 2 diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 parmesan cheese rind
- 3 ounces of Pancetta, either diced or sliced
- 2 heads escarole, sliced
- 1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 small lemon
- crushed red pepper to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- If using dry beans, pre-soak the beans overnight. Otherwise, rinse the canned beans in cold water.
- In a Dutch Oven or stockpot, combine beans, broth, and ¼ cup olive oil. Reserve the other olive oil for later.
- Add onions, carrots, 4 of the whole garlic cloves (reserve two cloves for later), bay leaf, and parmesan rind.
- Simmer for two hours on low heat. After 90 minutes follow the next step while waiting for the beans to finish.
- About 30 minutes before the beans are done, heat ¼ cup olive oil in a skillet. Add minced garlic and sliced or diced pancetta. Cook until pancetta starts to brown.
- Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste. Just a little bit of red pepper can go a long way. You can always add more but you can't take the spice out.
- Add escarole a handful at a time and toss to coat. Once escarole starts to wilt turn off the heat.
- Remove the onion, garlic, bay leaf, and what remains of the parmesan rind from the beans with a slotted spoon. Let the carrot remain.
- Once everything is done, combine the tomato and pancetta mixture and the beans in the dutch oven to warm. Add freshly squeezed lemon juice and stir.
- Taste and adjust salt or pepper if needed.
- Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, shredded parmesan cheese, and crusty bread.
This recipe is not overly complex, but there are some tips above for people who don't often cook with escarole, pancetta, or parmesan rinds.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 488Total Fat: 27gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 14mgSodium: 795mgCarbohydrates: 46gFiber: 13gSugar: 5gProtein: 18g
This information is provided by a third-party source.
Modifications And Variations
Don’t have access to pancetta? Try escarole and beans with sausage. You can either slice Italian sausage or remove it from the casing and break it up in the pan.
Can’t find escarole? Use kale as a more readily available, and often cheaper, alternative.
To make this dish vegetarian, use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth and add a little extra oil to make up for the loss of the fat from the pancetta.
If you don’t have a lemon, use a tablespoon of red wine vinegar to give the extra bit of acidity.
FAQs – Cooking With Escarole
Escarole is part of the chicory family. This is the family of vegetables which includes endive, radicchio, and other bitter greens. While the chicory family is characterized as bitter greens, escarole is one of the less bitter greens in the chicory family.
Escarole is a variety of endive. Both are members of the chicory family. Both have a bitterness to them. They are similar in nutritional value and how they can be eaten. Escarole and endive to differ in appearance with the later being smooth and round with broad leaves. Endive is more narrow with finely cut curly leaves.
Escarole is packed with fiber and several nutrients. Vitamins A, C, and K along with copper, and folate are found in escarole. Studies have shown that escarole aids in gut health thanks to its levels of insoluble fiber. Thanks to its high levels of Vitamin A, escarole may be beneficial in promoting eye health. High levels of antioxidants in escarole make it useful in reducing inflammation.