Escarole, white beans marry well in soup or salad

These are salad days, or so proclaimed the headline on this week’s A la Carte.

But the story and recipes didn’t suggest mere plates of greens and shredded veggies with maybe a few fruit-and-nut garnishes. These salads are full of fiber, healthy fats, warming spices and winter’s indispensable citrus.

A lentil salad, couscous salad and spicy, zesty kohlrabi salad all made the cut. To that, I’d like to suggest a bean salad.

Bean salads can be a bit tricky. Many types, such as black beans or kidney beans, yield a muddy flavor profile and heavy texture. The goal is for a light and refreshing dish that’s still filling.

It was quite by accident, however, that I composed my favorite bean salad to date, which drew rave reviews at a gathering of volunteer cooking educators. I started with white beans, cooked from the dry legume, then added diced fennel bulb, clementine segments and crumbled feta cheese. I whisked up a vinaigrette with the clementine zest and chopped fennel fronds.

Fennel, of course, is an immensely popular vegetable in Italy. So is escarole, a green I’ve only recently started consuming as salad. I’d always seen it cooked, particularly in recipes for Italian wedding soup, which often combines small white beans, rice or orzo.

A head of escarole is more expensive than leaf lettuces, but the densely packed leaves are so numerous that they can make more than one meal. I like to strip off the coarse, outer leaves for sautéing, braising or simmering. The tender, inner leaves play like a cross between butter lettuce and endive, ideal for salads.

This recipe from the Miami Herald for cooked escarole and beans could just as easily be converted to a salad. To a basic white-wine vinaigrette, simply add the lemon zest and juice, the chopped rosemary and about half each of the suggested quantities for minced garlic and red-pepper flakes. Toss the dressing with the escarole and beans and garnish with the toasted pine nuts, maybe some crumbled feta or Parmesan shavings.

Tribune News Service photo

Escarole and White Beans With Lemon and Rosemary

2 tablespoons very good olive oil

1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)

4 1/2 cups cooked cannellini or other white beans (1 pound dried beans, cooked, or two 15-ounce cans, rinsed and drained)

Zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons juice)

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves (from 2 or 3 sprigs), chopped fine

1/2 cup vegetable broth or white wine

1 head escarole, rinsed and blotted dry, leaves torn or chopped into bite-sized pieces

Sea salt, to taste

Small handful pine nuts, toasted, for garnish (optional)

In a large soup pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Stir in the red-pepper flakes and minced garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until garlic becomes soft and golden. Add the beans and stir.

Add the lemon zest and juice, chopped rosemary, vegetable broth or wine. Gently stir in the escarole, which will start to wilt from heat of beans. Bring everything to a simmer, giving an occasional stir. Cook for about 20 minutes or until escarole starts to soften but keeps its frill and color and beans are heated through.

Season with the sea salt to taste, scatter the toasted pine nuts on top, if using, and serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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