serves: 6 servings
Use the whole escarole head for the soup, although the tender yellow center part makes a great salad. Just remove any bruised or yellow parts of the outside leaves and shred the rest. You can make this soup with any of the greens (and reds) in the chicory-endive family, including the various kinds of radicchio now in the markets, escarole, curly endive (or frisée) or even Belgian endive.To make this soup in the traditional way, whole dried peperoncino or diavolillo peppers are the type of chili peppers that are used, seed and all. The process of toasting the whole pepper along with garlic cloves in olive oil brings out the nuttiness and spice in the pepper. You can remove the peppers before serving the soup, or they can be easily spotted and removed when eating.
1½ cups cannellini, great northern, baby lima, or other small dried white beans
2 quarts water
2 bay leaves
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the finished soup
6 cups escarole leaves, preferably the tough outer leaves, coarsely shredded, washed and drained
8 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
6 whole dried peperoncino, (hot red peppers)
It's always a good idea to pick over dried beans to remove any dirt or tiny stones. Then dump the beans into a 2 to 3 quart container and pour in enough cold water to cover them by at least 4 inches. Let soak in a cool place at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain thoroughly.
Drain and transfer beans to a 5- or 6 quart pot. Pour in 2 quarts of water, toss in the bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to simmering, pour in 1/4 cup of the olive oil, and cook until beans are tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. By the time the beans are tender, they should be covered by about 1 inch of cooking liquid. Season the beans to taste with salt. Stir in the escarole and cook, stirring occasionally, until the escarole is quite tender, about 20-30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
Heat the remaining 1/4 cup oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, shaking the pan, until the peppers change color, about 1 minute or less. Remove from the heat, and carefully-it will sputter quite a bit- pour one ladleful of soup into the skillet. Swirl the pan to blend the two, and then stir the panful of seasoned soup back into the large pot. Check the seasoning and let the soup rest off the heat, covered, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with garlic bread if you like.