Original recipe: Pasta e Fagioli with Escarole
For most of this year I have been trying to imagine a ‘category’ in which to gather the occasional food posts I write. Recently, as I was making and photographing this delicious soup, and realising how many changes I had made to the original recipe, it suddenly occurred to me… Cook’s edit. Most of us can relate to this. I think I’m not alone in viewing recipes as ‘suggestions’ and feeling within my rights to make changes to suit my diet or my tastes, not to mention availability of ingredients. I’m reluctant to make changes to cake or pie recipes, however, because the quantities and ingredients are closely aligned with the chemical reaction that lifts them and makes the texture so important.
With ‘Pasta e Fagioli with Escarole’, I was not precious.
The original recipe sounded perfectly fine but for dietary and procurement reasons I needed to make changes. Though I know what it is, I have never even seen anything labeled ‘escarole’ here in our groceries, so that was not an option either. But I have a couple of Tuscan kale plants in my herb garden and those leaves substituted nicely. My resident soup connoisseur pronounced it ‘beautiful’. I’ll take that, all day long!
I wholeheartedly encourage you to view the original recipe above, and make your own changes if need be, or you can use my version and tweak it as well. Cook’s edit.
One of the things I like best about this soup is that you don’t need meat stock to make it, or any stock at all, since it creates its own with the herbs and vegetables. Often I want to make soup and have run out of my freezer supply of stock, and don’t have time to make any. Since I can’t eat onion or garlic, water as a soup base can be pretty plain, but not this one.
Pasta e Fagioli with Kale
2 x 400 tins cannellini beans – soaked (navy beans, fagioli etc)
1 Parmesan rind* (about 2 ounces), plus shaved Parmesan for serving
2 medium carrots, scrubbed, halved crosswise and then halved lengthwise
topped with cheese, ready to serve
2 celery stalks, halved crosswise
6 sprigs of parsley
1 sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 dried chillies
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
~3 T olive oil
1/2 a large fennel bulb chopped into smallish chunks, plus the stem pieces trimmed
1 x 400g tin organic tomatoes in juice, unsalted if possible
3/4 C dry white wine (yes, this is necessary)
~1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
~1 tsp fennel seed
2oz dried pasta, I used good quality 100% spelt noodles
~ 8-10 leaves Tuscan kale – tear the leaves from the hardest part of the stem as it often doesn’t break down easily, and just use the leafy parts (as I said, the original recipe calls for escarole, which I never see in the grocery here, and Tuscan kale is growing in my garden so I used that)
I cannot eat beans of any kind without first soaking them. It aids in their digestion (and reduces the wind factor) so 24 hours before starting the soup, I put the two cans of rinsed beans into a jug with water to let them soak.
first ‘layer’ of flavour, cheese and herbs
second layer of flavour, veggies, chilies and parsley
To make the soup stock put the parmesan, carrots, celery, parsley, rosemary, bay leaves, chilies and don’t forget to use the stem pieces from your fennel bulb, as well as a good pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper into a soup pot. Add just enough water to cover the veggies, about 6-8 cups, or thereabouts. Simmer, covered, on low for about an hour. Turn off the heat and let it sit for another hour.
sautéed fennel, to replace onion
In a frying pan, place the oil and the fennel and sauté until there is a bit of colour on the fennel. Add the tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid is gone. Add the 3/4C wine and simmer until most of the liquid is gone again.
Remove the cheese rind, vegetables and herbs that have steeped in the stock. Add the fennel and tomato mixture to the stock, and also the drained, pre-soaked beans, and the kale, cut into pieces that will be easy to get onto a spoon. At this stage add the red chilli flakes and the fennel seed. The soup needs these seasonings to make up for the lack of garlic and onion, so even if you only use small amounts, you probably need to use at least a little, or something in place of them that you prefer. Taste the broth and if needed (which it probably will) another pinch of salt and a few more grinds of pepper. Simmer for another 30 minutes and taste again for salt and pepper.
Add whatever pasta you are using, or omit it if you don’t want to use it. Follow the package directions for time to cook, I cooked my spelt noodles for about 14-15 minutes. The pasta certainly made the soup less runny, but only slightly. If you wanted to you could simmer the soup with the lid off and reduce the liquid that way, or start with less water initially.
Serve the soup with freshly grated parmesan over it, fresh bread if you eat it, or nothing at all.
(* Parmesan rind – When I finish my Parmesan cheese I save the rinds in the cheese drawer in the fridge, then add them to soup for flavour. I’ve recently discovered a recipe called Parmesan broth, which I intend investigating as soon as I have some rinds saved again…which means eating a lot of parmesan cheese first—nasty job but someone has to do it)