Our friend Henriette made this for us once. It was one of those beautiful, crisp autumn days in New England, few years back. My husband and I came to help them cleaning the leaves on their large property. As we were working outside, I remember suddenly noticing that nice smell coming from the kitchen.
It started with sauteing onions, then it changed to garlic, more earthy tones with the chicken broth and tomatoes … and shortly after Henriette showed up outside with a bowl of this delicious, comforting soup, and a large loaf of garlic bread. We really enjoyed it, sitting outside, on one of the last warm days of fall. As we were eating, she told us that it’s something she always likes to order in one Italian bistro, and ever since tried to recreate the taste of it at home.
The sad story behind this memory is that at that time, our energetic and fun loving Henriette was already losing her balance, speech and muscle control in her body. I found it amazing that she put all the strength she had left in her, just to prepare this lunch for us. Months later we lost her to Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was a first time I ever heard of that awful disease and it was horrifying to see how fast our friend’s symptoms progressed and how she suffered.
I try not to think about the months that followed, and how helpless we all felt, when I thought of her. Instead, every time I make this soup, it always reminds me of Henriette’s joyful spirit, her gift of friendship and how she made us feel on that nice autumn day.
Henriette’s Escarole Soup
It became one of our favorite soups. I added few things to the original recipe since, and it’s hearty enough to be easily considered a nice dinner. A lovely, comforting soup for the upcoming autumn.
- 1 head of escarole
- 1 Italian sausage (hot if you like)
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 can of Cannellini beans
- ½ cup dry pasta – orzo (or your choice) – optional
- 1 can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
- 4 cups of chicken stock
- Salt and freshly grated pepper
- Olive oil
- Red crushed pepper (optional)
Peel each leaf and thoroughly clean escarole under running water. Set aside on paper towel to dry and then cut into ribbons (large leaves should be cut longwise and then across). Left in colander in the sink to get rid of the excess moisture.
In the large soup pot heat olive oil on medium heat, add finely chopped onions and saute until soft. Add minced garlic and keep sauteing for another 30 seconds.
Cut the casing of the Italian sausage, squeeze meat out into the pot, and break into small pieces with the wooden spoon. We like the soup spicy, so at this point I also add little bit of red crashed peppers. Totally optional, it is delicious even without the heat. Keep browning the sausage, stirring often, breaking with the spoon, until cooked.
Add all the chopped escarole to the pot and mix well with the onion/garlic mix. The pot will be almost full, but escarole will cook down significantly as it softens up. Keep steering until it cooks down to almost third of the volume.
When soft, add tomatoes with its juice, beans (thoroughly rinsed in colander) and chicken stock. Bring to boil, turn to low heat and let’s cook until the flavors combine, about 10-15 minutes.
Add orzo if you like the soup thick, and stir. Henriette made it with orzo, but I later replaced it with beans to stay low carb. To use both is a delicious option. If adding pasta, cook until orzo is soft, about 7 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and freshly grated pepper. Enjoy with a roll or garlic bread, just like Henriette prepared it for us the first time.
Do you have a memorable meal that reminds you of a situation, place or person you were eating it with? Please share your story in comments below!