I started making this for the family sometime last year. I wanted some new ideas for a super easy yet equally super tasting soup for those Fall and Winter nights that were preceded by craptacular hours of work. Something to comfort and de-stress ourselves with. There really is nothing like a great, homemade soup after a long, hard and cold day. When your butt is chafed from the cubicle marathons and your eyes feel like they’re ready to burst from staring at computer screens. That’s not just me, right?
I went on Food Network’s glorious site and found a list of 50 different soup ideas. None of them were actual recipes, but two to three sentence directions instead. And I love those kinds of recipe suggestions! One in particular caught my eye, so I decided to look up a more complete recipe and lo, I found White Bean and Escarole Soup.
Uh…what’s escarole? I was such a naive cook then – still am. So, people put greens in their soups? It was as if a whole new culinary world was mine for the taking. I actually managed to find escarole at our local store. That one time. Never again. I’m not sure what this area has against escarole, but I was disappointed not to be able to get it because it was so very nice. So we made adjustments to the original, substituted other things and came up with our version.
This soup has relatively easy ingredients: Swiss chard, garlic, pancetta, diced canned tomatoes, cannellini beans, chicken stock, red pepper flakes, onion and Italian sausage. Doesn’t that Swiss chard look lovely? This is actually the first time I used Swiss chard, which is supposed to be a good substitute for escarole and we loved it even more.
Pancetta, as Giada always says, is basically Italian bacon. It’s not smoke-cured like American bacon, and it has little peppercorns spattered throughout. It’s intensely salty in flavor, so you don’t need a lot for this recipe. When I go to my deli counter, I ask for a piece that’s about 1/2 an inch thick so that I can dice it into small chunks. Crisp it up in some extra virgin olive oil. When they start to pop and sizzle into a beautiful pinkish brown color, they’re ready to scoop out and reserve for later. Oh yes, we will be back for you, pancetta!
The onion gets sauteed next till softened, then the red pepper flakes, minced garlic and herbs get a quick saute as well. Since this is a soup that will simmer for a little while, I just toss in the thyme leaves, stems and all. I’ve never seen the point in mincing tiny leaves when they’d loosen from the stems on their own once in the soup.
It’s not lazy, it’s economizing my time, man.
We made two batches of this soup the day we photographed for this post, and each head of Swiss chard we chopped up made about four cups of greens that almost filled my entire six and a quarter quart dutch oven.
Swiss chard is a very robust leafy green and we even thought it tasted great raw, earthy yet pleasingly so. I can see it going in some salads in the near future. In this soup it cooks down quite a bit of course, but it manages to retain some nice texture as opposed to becoming completely soft.
Where it was about two inches from the top of the pot pre-cooked, it’s now ready to play with the rest of this soup. Game on!
All that’s left is to simply dump in the rest of the ingredients and simmer. It really couldn’t get any easier and the simmer time is next to nothing.
But what about the sausage, eh? Well, I cheat and have my hubby cook it for me on the grill. Not only does the grilling add another nice, subtle flavor to the soup, but it’s one less thing for me to do in the kitchen and clean up later. You could even grill whatever sausage you plan to use the day before and save yourself even more time the day the soup is made. We do this all the time.
This one is amazingly full of flavor and I never, ever hear Sweet biscuit bakers save us, not that soup again! We serve it with a small side salad and whatever bread we have handy, though I confess I’m addicted to some store-bought naan that I try to keep on hand in the freezer. A little of that heated up in a grill pan till golden and this soup? Or maybe some of those gougeres from earlier this week.
Heaven. Lip-smacking heaven.
Swiss Chard, White Bean & Sausage Soup
adapted from White Bean and Escarole Soup via Food Network
Prep Time: 25 minutes Cook time: 30 minutes Level: Easy Serves: 6
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 ounces pancetta or prosciutto cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 – 4 fresh thyme sprigs, whole
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 head Swiss chard, (about 1 pound) trimmed, washed, and coarsely chopped
- Two 15 ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes w/basil, garlic and oregano (with juice, preferably no salt added)
- 5 cups chicken broth, preferably low-sodium and MSG-free
- 5 Italian sausages, pan-cooked or grilled and chopped (we use Johnsonville brand)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- Fresh ground pepper, to taste
In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat, add the pancetta, and saute for about 5 minutes. When the meat is browned and crisp, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the fat in the pot. Add the onion and saute until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, fresh herbs, and pepper flakes; saute for 2 – 3 minutes more. Add the Swiss chard, stirring for 2 minutes more until wilted. Add the beans, tomato, broth, cooked sausage and salt to taste; bring to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Stir in the reserved pancetta and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with your favorite bread.
Vegetarians can have this soup too! Substitute vegetable broth for the chicken and omit the sausage (and pancetta) for whatever variety of vegetarian “meat” you’d prefer to use.
If you can’t get pancetta, you can use a few strips of regular American bacon, diced and cooked according to the same instructions above.
Can’t find Swiss Chard or escarole? Use fresh spinach leaves instead. They do just about as well cooking-wise (though they maintain less of their original texture) and are no less healthy an option.