One of our favorite foods that grandma would send home with dad on a cold winter day was her scrumptious escarole with beans. 'Scarole she would call it (pronouncing it schkarole). It is a simple peasant dish- I call it "Italian soul food". It is one of those hearty soups that taste even better the next day...but who can wait 'till tomorrow?
Ideally it is made with pigs feet or ham hocks. (Why is it the feet belong to a pig, but the hocks belong to a ham?) They should be fresh as opposed to smoked. Fresh frozen is OK. During a shortage of hocks, like we happen to have tonight (it is like 19 degrees out, so I'm not venturing out to the supermarket) I use Italian sausage. Sausage makes a tasty escarole and bean soup, but the ham hock really give it a different dimension.
If using three or four hocks, boil them first for while and skim off the scum/protein that floats to the top; continue to boil until the hocks are cooked through. If using sausage, fry up the sausage (preferably hot) in some olive oil. If it is sweet sausage, add to the fry pan some red pepper flakes or one of those hot peppers from the garden that you dried or froze last October.
Wash and drain a couple of heads of escarole - it is like a head of leaf lettuce, only heartier and crisper. Chop very coarsely.
Then, in a large pot, drizzle some olive oil and saute some more garlic and red pepper flakes. Toss in the escarole and it will make a nice skoosh when it hits the hot oil. Stir it around until it begins to wilt. Add two or three cans of Cannellini beans (white kidney beans).
There are no rules: you like beans, you add more; you like escarole, you add more. You like potatoes, add some potatoes.
Get out the pepper grinder and pepper those beans with fresh ground black pepper. Now there are food snobs that insist on certain kinds of pepper corns, imported from exotic places, that have exotic prices. Me, I get mine at Ocean State Job Lot where all their spices are, like 88 cents.
Add the sausage or ham hocks to the pot and let the soup simmer - if using hocks, add some of the broth the hocks cooked in and continue to simmer the soup until the meat falls off the bone with a little help. With sausage, simmer for 30-45 minutes, depending on how hungry you are. You like soupy? Add a little water or more ham hock broth. Serve with crusty Italian bread or French baguettes. Or serve over pasta.
Tonight's sausage version needs more escarole, for my taste; Leon likes the beans.
If you use hocks or pigs' feet, the leftover soup will gelatinize. The gelatin will melt when you re-heat it.
This is a picture of escarole and bean soup with ham hocks and sausage from my archives:
Now this dish is one that turned Leon Italian from some Northern Irish - mixed American ancestry. And still gives me some power. He is so grateful for this tasty dish, he's out doing the dishes as I type.
Dinner's ready, Buon' Appetito!