The classic combination of spicy sausage, creamy white cannellini beans and bright escarole has never been so satisfying. We go heavy on the garlic and herbs, add more vegetables, and give it a hearty, creamy texture by mashing some of the beans and adding a little cream cheese.
Every year on the blog about this time we complain about the weather. It’s so cold right now, we’re watching the Hardhome episode of Game of Thrones, where Jon Snow and his pals are as far North as they’ve ever been, and they’re fighting through a vicious blizzard and the cold is literally making people’s hands drop off, and we’re thinking “mmm, that looks like a toasty vacation spot”.
This year, the weather gods have outdone themselves (it’s -16ºF / -27ºC with the wind chill. That’s an incomprehensible amount of cold.). So instead of shaking our fists at the sky and risking instant frostbite, we fight back by making the coziest, heartiest, most fortifying soup we can imagine.
Those of you of a British persuasion might remember TV commercials from the 80s where grinning children consumed bowls of steaming Ready Brek porridge, which generated a kind of heat forcefield keeping them alive on the arduous bike ride to school on a frozen winter’s morn. The narrator declared it was “central heating for kids”. Tragically, the radiation emitted by the porridge forcefield led to the untimely and macabre demise of all those involved, but the lesson was learned: you need something warm when it’s this cold out.
While simple, this soup is not the least bit dull. We like to mix both hot and sweet Italian sausage, and either pork or turkey work well. If you don’t eat meat you could even leave the sausage out, as there’s so much flavor from other ingredients. As with any soup, the better the broth, the better the final dish so use either homemade or a good store-bought variety. Low sodium is best so you can season to your own taste and you won’t risk over-salting as the liquid reduces. If you have a good Dutch Oven, this is a great opportunity to use it. If not, any good, large, heavy-bottomed soup pot will do.
The broth will take on great flavor from the vegetables, not just the escarole but carrots, onion and celery, as well as quite a bit of garlic. Beans, especially canned ones, need a lot of seasoning to perk them up so don’t skimp. I’m not a huge fan of dried herbs but at the moment our garden is a frozen wasteland so, in a pinch it would be terrible to use them here. Just remember that dried herbs taste a lot stronger than fresh, so use about half the recommended amount.
While you could make this soup with dried beans (and with our new favorite kitchen gadget, the Instant Pot, we’re going to try that asap) but in this case we went for the ease of the canned variety. A lot of them, in fact. Two cans get added towards the end of the cooking process so the beans keep their shape. The third can gets sacrificed to the texture gods, meaning it gets mashed into a paste which, along with a bit of cream cheese, gives this soup a thick, creamy texture.
Last but not least comes the escarole. Escarole is a leafy green, related to frisée, curly endive and Belgian endive. It has wide, frilly green leaves that have just a hint of bitterness. The tender, light green inner leaves are delicious raw, the darker leaves are tougher and more suited to cooking. It can be grilled, roasted, sautéed, or used in soups.
If you’ve been following us for a while you might recognize some of the ingredients from one of our favorite weeknight quick dishes – Pasta with Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and White Beans. This is something we make several times a month in the winter season, when the rabe is sweet. The substitution of escarole, which cooks quickly, works much better in the soup, and you could certainly use it in the pasta dish too (although we love the bitter horseradish-y flavor of the rabe). In short, the combination of sausage, white beans, and some kind of bitter or hard-leafed green is a classic one that you can play with across a variety of recipes.
The process is uncomplicated. Really once you’ve browned the sausage and prepared your vegetables – a mirepoix of celery, carrot and onion – you’ve done most of the work, and the rest is combination in the pot. Half an hour, and you’re done: you’ve got a hearty and balanced soup that’ll taste fantastic and will keep you warm even when your house is colder than Mars. Now that’s a TV commercial slogan I can get behind.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound hot or sweet turkey or pork Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1½ cups)
- 3 medium carrots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 celery stalks, finely chopped (about ¾ cup)
- 5 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 cups (950ml) homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
- 3 (15 oz/430g) cans cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
- 3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 pound escarole, washed and coarsely chopped
- ½ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
- Heat oil in a large (at least 5 quart) stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add crumbled sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a plate. If you have more than 2 tablespoons fat in pot, remove excess. Add onions, carrots and celery to pot and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are tender but not brown, about 8 minutes (if the bottom of the pot is beginning to brown, lower heat and stir in a couple of tablespoons water) . Add garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in chicken stock. Add 1 can of beans to a small bowl and use a fork to mash beans into a coarse paste. Add mashed beans to pot and bring soup to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in cream cheese, escarole, cooked sausage and remaining 2 cans of beans; let simmer until escarole is wilted and tender, 10 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.