Escarole Soup with Beans and Meatballs
Soup is something I never order in a restaurant. I never really knew why it didn’t appeal to me, but making this one make me realize that it’s because soup is something I can easily make at home. Even if you’re not someone who considers yourself a cook, a simple Celery Root Soup or Potato Leek Soup with just a few ingredients simmered up and blended together is pretty hard to mess up.
I found myself with an extra-large head of escarole last week, which one of my favorite winter greens. I have a habit of buying too much of anything I like when I see it at the market, although with escarole, you don’t have a choice: you have to buy the whole head.
In Paris, heads of escarole lean toward being the size of a small shrub. In fact, they’re so big, they take up most of my shopping basket or bag, so I’ve learned to buy it last.
Fortunately winter salad greens like this keep well, and it was perfectly fresh this week. When I posted a picture of it online after buying it, though, a few people were surprised that it was eaten raw. I usually use it in salads, sometimes with nuts, apples, pears, maybe some blue cheese or gorgonzola, and a dressing made with a good amount of mustard, or sometimes some walnut or hazelnut oil to the sauce. Romain had never had fruit in a salad and liked the contrast with the slightly bitter greens. (Whew! Because for such a little guy, he’s a pretty tough crowd.)
But I had so many other winter greens that I decided to make soup. Seeing as I also had some meatballs in the freezer that I made last week, because I was craving meatballs, this soup was perfect because I could multitask and use them up.
To even further my status as an effective multitasker in that department (I should write a Marie Kondo-like book, The Life-Changing Magic of Using Things Up), I also had a bag of these much-heralded Marcella beans from Rancho Gordo that I brought back from the States. People ask me where they can get them in France, and you can’t. But the good news for those who are Stateside is that Steve, the owner, is offering some French varieties of heirloom-type beans. His cassoulet beans are excellent, he’s got flageolets, and he’s now carrying Mogette de Vendée beans. (He also just published French Beans: Exploring the Bean Cuisine of France by Georgeanne Brennan.)
This recipe isn’t French, but Italian-influenced, a take on Italian Wedding Soup. It’s a simple broth-based bowl of escarole sautéed in garlic, beans, and meatballs, which is hearty and warming. I was sort of not in the mood to make a fuss, so poached the meatballs in the soup rather than cooking them separately, although a few fell apart, which didn’t bother me. (Anything with less clean-up in the kitchen never bothers me.) But you can fry or bake them in advance, and add them at the last minute. It’s a great soup to get you through the winter, a wedding, or an overactive purchase of greens.
And…one more thing: I’ll be off for the next few weeks, taking a break after finishing a book, enjoying some downtime. See you when I return! – david