A southern- Italian specialty, this soup has been a favorite of the Italian American immigrants through the generations and still is. It is easy to make, delicious, nutritious, and affordable— all the elements appreciated by those who brought it to this country, and by all of us today who make it in their honor.
- 1½ cups dried cannellini, Great Northern, baby lima, or other small white beans
- 2 quarts water
- 2 fresh bay leaves, or 3 dried
- ½ cup extra- virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the finished soup
- Salt to taste
- 6 cups (approximately 1 head) coarsely shredded escarole leaves (preferably the tough outer leaves), washed and drained
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
- 4 to 6 whole dried peperoncini (hot red peppers)
Cold- soak the beans in advance: Dump them 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 to a large stockpot. Pour in the 2 quarts water, toss in the bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, pour in half of the olive oil, and cook until the beans are tender and only an inch of liquid remains, 1 to 1½ hours. Season the beans to taste with salt, then stir in the escarole, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the escarole is quite tender, about 15 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat. Heat the remaining olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and peppers, 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 everything, 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.