This was one of the first traditional Italian meals my not-so-traditional Italian husband cooked for me back in our courtin' days, and it remains one of my favorites. If you've been hankering after the heaps of local escarole at the market this time of year, this recipe is a great way to put them to use. Best part: This satisfying one-dish meal can be made in about 45 minutes.
Aside from the speedy cooking time, the other great thing about this recipe is how friendly it is to substitutions. If you don't have escarole, use any other hardy winter greens you like. No cannellini beans on hand? White kidney beans or navy beans will do. If, like me, you object to out-of-season tomatoes, a couple of tablespoons of good tomato paste will work fine. I've even made a pretty darn tasty vegetarian-friendly version, leaving the sausage out and using vegetable broth in lieu of chicken stock.
A couple tips:
Don't overcook the sausage. You want it to be crumbled and cooked all the way through, not tough and chewy.
Don't undercook the escarole. You'll know it's cooked when you can see the lines at the base of the leaves. Taste it to ensure that no bitterness remains.
Italian Greens and Beans Makes 4 servings
2-3 tablespoons olive oil 1 yellow onion, finely chopped 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 1 lb hot Italian sausage 1-2 heads escarole, cleaned and rinsed 1 tomato, chopped 2 cups chicken stock (or more, if you prefer this dish soupy) 3 cups cannellini beans, thoroughly soaked and drained
In a large pot, heat the oil and fry the onions over moderate-high heat. When the onions start to soften, add the garlic.
Remove the sausages from their casings and add to the pot. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until thoroughly cooked, breaking the sausage into smaller chunks. When the sausage is cooked all the way through, add the tomato. Stir thoroughly to combine.
Tear the escarole into chunks and add to the pot. Don't worry about water getting into the pot. Cook the escarole until it is thoroughly wilted, being careful not to undercook.
Add the beans and chicken stock. Simmer until the outer skin of the beans dissolves and slightly thickens the broth, about 15-20 minutes. Serve with a fresh loaf of Italian bread.