Though I have a hard time saying goodbye to the warmth and waning slivers of light at fall’s end, when the air turns crisp I’m never disappointed at the prospect of the hearty, comforting foods that accompany this time of year. My cravings for crunchy, crisp salads and juicy fruit are all but gone, replaced by a longing for the warming slow-cooked stews and hearty soups that will be my regular go-to for the next four or five months.
Few things are as satisfying as a pot of soup, in my eyes, or as easy. In fact, this ease is precisely why I find soups so satisfying to make. After cooking all day for other people, I want to keep things simple when I get home. Because I refuse to compromise with shortcuts when feeding my family, one-pot meals are heaven sent. Particularly a simmering crock of soup. Chock-full of valuable nutrients from rich bone broth and tender vegetables, soup provides a wonderfully balanced meal that’s loaded with vitamins, minerals, and flavor. A big pot soup is not only the one thing that everyone in my family agrees on and enjoys, but it also means I can have dinner ready and waiting for days on end, if I choose.
Few soups are complicated to make, but this one is about as effortless as it gets. Though it calls for fewer than 10 ingredients and is ready to eat in 30 minutes, it’s still loaded with incredible depth of flavor. So simple, so satisfying.
For those unfamiliar, escarole is a bitter green used frequently in Italian cuisine. A member of the chicory family (along with endive, radicchio, and dandelion), it can be easy to miss in the store because the large, pale curly leaves are so easy to confuse with a big head of lettuce. As the name suggests, escarole is bitter, though not quite as powerful as its cousins. Like other chicory members, the bitterness mellows when cooked, leaving a pleasant but not overpowering bite, not to mention a delectable and interesting flavor. However, one of my favorite things about escarole is its texture. Unlike kale, which can be tough and dominating, or spinach, which can get mushy, escarole when cooked becomes tender and silken, with beautiful, almost translucent, pale green leaves.
Sausage and bitter greens are a classic Italian combination, and because this soup contains so few ingredients, the pairing really shines here without much interruption. The fragrance permeates the liquid, creating what is possibly one of the most satisfyingly tasty broths I’ve ever had.
This soup is hearty enough that it serves me well as a meal in itself, with little more than a healthy dose of freshly grated Parmigiano cheese—and if I’m so inclined, a nub of crusty bread. If you prefer something more filling, add a diced potato or some Italian white beans, either of which would serve both tradition and substance. Use a good-quality mild or hot Italian sausage, or a combination (my favorite, for well-rounded flavor). Serve as a stand-alone meal or as a soup course in a larger meal. If you can find it, using a true Parmigiano-Reggiano to garnish goes a long way, and the taste is in a league of its own.
Italian Sausage-Escarole Soup
Makes 6 hearty servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30–45 minutes
¾ lb. mild Italian sausage, crumbled
¾ lb. hot Italian sausage, crumbled
1 onion, diced
1 large potato, diced (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups homemade or quality store-bought chicken stock
1 large head escarole, roughly chopped
1¼ cups cooked small white beans (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parmigiano-Reggiano, or similar Parmesan-style cheese, to serve
- In a large pot, brown the sausage until about halfway cooked. Add onions (and potato, if using) and continue cooking until sausage is fully cooked and onions are beginning to get tender. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20–25 minutes, until onion is fully cooked. Add chopped escarole and beans, if using. Simmer until escarole wilts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve piping hot with lots of Parmesan cheese.
Image from Briana Goodall.