Escarole and beans is a classic Italian recipe that makes delicious use of simple vegetarian ingredients to create a hearty and cozy dish.
White beans and leafy escarole are served in this chunky, stew-like dish which needs nothing more than some good crusty bread to enjoy it with!
I can still hear my great-grandmother, who we affectionately called Nonni, saying “escarole and beans” in her heavy Italian accent when I think of this dish.
Between ciambotta and this escarole bean stew, we pretty much ate nothing else all summer long.
Well, besides Sunday dinners.
Those were always reserved for pasta, homemade marinara with meatballs, sausage and braciole.
Much like ciambotta, escarole and beans is a humble dish.
It’s vegetarian in nature (although some versions do use meat, more on that below), affordable and makes excellent use of prolific seasonal ingredients in a hearty way.
INGREDIENTS TO MAKE ESCAROLE AND BEANS
The beauty of Italian “peasant” dishes like this is the short ingredient list.
There’s never anything fancy involved, nothing you’ll have to go on a long grocery store hunt for.
Leafy escarole and white cannellini beans are the stars of the show in this recipe.
Along with olive oil, garlic, onions and broth, they transform into a cozy dish some enjoy as a stew (like my family did) while others enjoy more like a soup using a bit more broth.
Either way, it’s a simple, comforting dish that comes together with little effort.
- 1 large bunch escarole
- 2 cans cannellini beans
- extra virgin olive oil
- yellow onion
- broth (vegetable or chicken broth)
- pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- salt and pepper
WHAT IS ESCAROLE?
Escarole is a leafy green vegetable that resembles romaine lettuce in appearance.
However, it’s actually part of the chicory family so its taste is more bitter than neutral like lettuce.
Other greens in the chicory family include endive and radicchio (both delicious in their own right like in this endive radicchio salad).
Often, escarole will be labeled as just “chicory” in the grocery store.
It’s much less common in North American cooking than it is in Italy but you should still be able to find it relatively easily at any “good” store or market.
It’s also an easy green to grow yourself if you have a garden.
You may be most familiar with it for its role in Italian wedding soup. It’s traditionally the greens used in that recipe.
Much like dandelion greens (which I also love pairing with beans), cooking escarole tames the bitterness quite a bit.
That said, dandelion greens are far more bitter than escarole so if you’re on the fence with bitter greens, escarole is a great one to try as its bitterness is much more mild than others.
Many recipes for escarole and beans involve boiling or blanching the escarole first to remove the bitterness.
I find that step completely unnecessary as the 20 minutes or so of cooking time without a parboil is plenty on its own.
My family’s escarole and bean recipe never made use of blanching the escarole so this one doesn’t either!
HOW TO MAKE ESCAROLE AND BEANS
First, chop, wash and dry the escarole. I use my handy salad spinner for prepping all the greens I cook.
If you’re wondering how to clean escarole simply chop off the bottom root then cut the leaves roughly. Soak in cold water and either use a salad spinner or a large kitchen towel to dry.
Escarole can accumulate a lot of dirt in the stems (similar to bok choy) so it’ll need a thorough wash.
Next, add the olive oil to a large pot over medium heat.
Once hot, place the garlic, onions and red pepper flakes into the pot and sauté for about 5 minutes until the onions soften and the garlic is fragrant.
Add the prepared escarole greens and half the broth to the pot. Stir to combine, cover with a lid and cook until the escarole has completely wilted down into the broth, about 10 minutes.
Remove the lid, add the remaining broth and cannellini beans. Stir again to combine all the ingredients and cook uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve in bowls.
You can garnish the escarole and bean soup with some fresh parmesan or nutritional yeast if vegan.
A small pinch of additional red pepper flakes is also nice for a hint of spice.
Serve as is or with some crusty bread and enjoy!
ESCAROLE AND BEAN SOUP VS. STEW
This recipe results in a stew-like consistency. If you prefer to make escarole and bean soup, simply add more broth.
Four cups of whichever broth you prefer should suffice to make this recipe into a soup.
Make sure to season appropriately as you’ll likely need a bit more salt and pepper.
ESCAROLE AND WHITE BEANS
White beans are what is traditionally used in any escarole and beans recipe but they can be substituted if you prefer.
Navy beans or light kidney beans are good options.
And Great Northern beans are so similar to cannellini they can also be used.
It really just depends what I have on hand in my pantry as to what gets used in this dish. A soft starchy bean is what you’re after here.
Cannellini beans happen to be my favorite bean of them all so I always keep a bunch of cans on hand to make recipes like this as well as my homemade white refried beans or soups like this creamy carrot soup with white beans.
ADDING MEAT TO AN ESCAROLE AND BEANS RECIPE
While not traditional to the recipe, a little bit of meat can be added to this classic Italian dish for some extra heartiness.
Option 1: Bacon or pancetta
A few slices of either bacon or pancetta can be finely chopped and cooked with the escarole and beans. This option brings a touch of savory flavor to the recipe without making it too heavy.
Simply add the bacon or pancetta to the pot with the garlic and onions in the first step and cook until browned. Follow the remainder of the recipe as stated.
Option 2: Ground sausage or pork
This option is more of a full on meaty twist to the traditional recipe. Making escarole and beans with sausage turns the dish into a full meal by itself.
For this option, use 1/2 to 1 pound of either ground sausage or pork and brown it first in the pot by itself.
Use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pot once browned and transfer to a separate dish leaving the oil/grease in the pot to cook the garlic and onions in.
Follow the recipe as written from that point and add the cooked ground sausage or pork back into the pot with the cannellini beans towards the end.
Alternatively, air fry sausage, slice it and just serve on top of the bowl of escarole and beans. Easier and just as delicious!
IS ESCAROLE AND BEANS HEALTHY?
Escarole, as a bitter leafy green, is high in folate, fiber and vitamins A and K.
Beans are also an excellent source of fiber, protein, folate and vitamin B6.
Together these two plant based powerhouses make escarole and beans a simple yet highly nutritious meal!
HOW TO MAKE ESCAROLE LESS BITTER
Here’s a fun little trick if you find escarole to be on the bitter side.
Squeeze a little bit of fresh lemon juice into the pot of escarole and beans right at the end of cooking.
Acids like lemon juice (vinegar can also be used) help counter the bitter flavor of the greens. It’s a trick you can use for any bitter green!
So easy yet so effective!
If you’re unable to escarole, try this dish with Swiss chard instead.
Or, make my simple sautéed Swiss chard recipe. Another one that’s perfect with just some crusty bread on the side. You can even add white beans to that recipe too!
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 large head escarole, chopped, washed and dried
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth, divided
- 2 15 ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- salt and pepper to taste
- Add olive oil to a large pot over medium heat.
- Once hot, add onions, garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for about 5 minutes until onions are softened and garlic fragrant.
- Add the prepared escarole and half the broth to the pot. Cover and cook until the escarole is completely wilted, about 10 minutes.
- Remove the cover, add the remaining broth and cannellini beans. Stir to combine and cook uncovered for 10 more minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm with crusty bread, extra red pepper flakes and/or fresh parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast.
*See post above for variations including sausage, bacon and tomatoes to this escarole and beans recipe.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 375Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 724mgCarbohydrates: 58gFiber: 15gSugar: 2gProtein: 21g
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.