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Escarole with Cannellini Beans

Escarole with Cannellini Beans
You can serve this traditional Italian combination of mellow white beans and earthy dark greens in a variety of ways: as a salad to start a meal, as a side dish or base for roasted or grilled meats or poultry, or as a sauce for bite-size al dente pasta. For a vegetarian version, use vegetable broth and omit the optional pancetta.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. dried cannellini beans or Great Northern beans
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 2 yellow onions, quartered
  • 2 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 8 garlic cloves, 4 left whole, 4 minced
  • 2 fresh sage sprigs
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 oz. pancetta or unsmoked bacon, chopped (optional)
  • 2 heads escarole, about 2 lb. total, cut crosswise into strips 2 inches wide
  • 1 can (14 1/2 oz.) diced plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, drained
  • 1 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more, to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Directions:

Pick over the beans, removing any misshapen beans or grit. Rinse under cold running water. Put the beans in a large bowl, add cold water to cover by at least 2 inches and let stand at room temperature overnight. Alternatively, for a quick soak, put the beans in a large pot, add water to cover by at least 2 inches and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and let soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans.

Stovetop method: In a large Dutch oven, combine the beans, the broth and 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add cold water to cover the beans by about 1 1/2 inches. Add the onions, carrots, whole garlic cloves and sage. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, partially cover and simmer gently until the beans are very tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove the onions, garlic cloves and sage and discard.

Slow-cooker method: In a slow cooker, combine the beans, the broth and 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add cold water to cover the beans by about 1 1/2 inches. Add the onions, carrots, whole garlic cloves and sage. Cover and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until the beans are very tender, about 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low. Remove the onions, garlic cloves and sage and discard.

About 30 minutes before the beans are done, in a large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Add the minced garlic, red pepper flakes and pancetta and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the escarole and sauté until the leaves begin to wilt, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, the 1 tsp. salt and the 1/2 tsp. pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves have softened and the mixture is reduced to about one-third, 5 to 7 minutes.

When the beans are done, add the escarole mixture and stir, breaking up some of the beans with the back of the spoon to thicken the mixture slightly. Stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, passing the remaining olive oil at the table. Serves 6 to 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking, by Melanie Barnard, Charles Pierce & Dennis Kelly (Oxmoor House, 2008).