Peasant Soup IS An Entrée!

Making the rounds in the garden, lately I’ve been thinning little heads of things like frisée, escarole, pan di zucchero, and radicchio so their brethren can expand to full size. I like to manage my thinning as attentively as I can; keeping track of the progress of various greens allows for using them at all the points of their growth cycle, from tiny sprouts to big fat heads and everything in between. Left too long, they get too crowded, but done right means more food from each bed. The work of the last few days has been to remove the last of the too-close small heads so the rest can grow up unimpeded. And since it was escarole’s turn, that led inevitably to this soup.

Escarole might be my favorite cooking green in its family of bitter chicories. The others I prefer to eat raw: small in salads or big made into green mash, a kind of pesto. Grilled radicchio is good, and I make a mean braised endive, but I like the way escarole keeps its green when wilted and it has a moderate bitterness that plays well with other flavors. So naturally my first thought was to soak some white beans (grown organically right here in New York State) and make soup. The big jar of extra chickeny chicken stock sealed the deal. The extra chicken-ness resulted from using some of an earlier batch of stock to make this one; it had a seriously deep flavor and was quite wiggly.

A bag of last summer’s mirepoix from the freezer and a bit of minced guanciale later, and all of the above became this lovely Tuscan soup. I added a generous splash of maple-sumac vinegar for acidity, and sliced and toasted the end of the previous day’s boule for dipping and sopping. I chopped a few fresh herbs for the top, and drizzled in some good olive oil and a few drops of truffle oil for some welcome decadence. The evening was cool, so this hit all sorts of pleasurable spots. I have a real thing for white beans, and since artichoke season is over, I need to content myself with this sort of preparation until cassoulet seems like a sane proposition. The leftovers from this were utter joy with a fried egg the next morning and the rest went into the kid’s lunch. There was pink wine, and a breeze, and much contented slurping. Sometimes simple is the new fancy.

3 comments to Peasant Soup IS An Entrée!

  • El

    Ah. I see you’re on a keep-it-simple kick, I like that. Of course you’re going to post something impossible tomorrow.

    Escarole is a stalwart winter green in the greenhouses: so happy in there in the cold! Radicchio too but escarole is built for size whereas even the Treviso just gives up after a while, maxing out at maybe 8″ high. Not that bigger is better, just that..well…my hankering for chickories is, especially in winter.

    I like your soup but where’s the sage? White beans with sage mmm

  • Escarole is one of my favorite greens to grow, too – and this soup sounds perfect. I love the idea of the fried egg on it for breakfast. Now if only we had the cool evening and breeze to go with it! :)

  • Peter

    El: My sage is recovering from a hot spell. I did pick and dry all its flowers, though.

    Susan: It just rained, so the air coming in the windows is finally, blessedly cool.

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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