Escarole soup is a classic hearty Italian meal. Featuring escarole greens, white beans, sausage and pasta in a flavorful garlicky broth, it’s a healthy and satisfying weeknight meal.
I was fortunate enough to grow up knowing my great-grandmother for the first 20 years of my life.
She was an Italian immigrant who came to this country at 18 and her accent was as thick as you’d imagine.
To this day, I can still hear her pronunciation of “escarole” in that beautiful way the Italian language emphasizes vowels and it puts a smile on my face just to sit here remembering it.
Escarole was an ever present green in my family’s home garden and something we ate with as much frequency during the summer months as most Americans probably eat potato chips (or whatever ultra-processed Americanized food item you want to insert here).
It has a fond place in my heart because of this and to this day remains one of my favorite bitter greens.
In the summer months, I’ll often make a simple escarole and beans recipe but in the winter months, when I’m craving something a bit more hearty, this escarole soup is my go to.
The two recipes are similar but you’ll see this escarole soup recipe is a bit more substantial by including ground sausage and pasta.
Both ingredients bring extra satiety to the dish without complicating things. It’s still a one-pot meal that comes together quickly making it great for weeknight dinners.
WHAT’S IN ESCAROLE SOUP?
The ingredients for this dish are quite simple, they’re a classic example of how simple, whole foods can create a healthy, hearty and comforting meal with very little fuss.
Escarole soup is made of:
- Escarole greens – one large head of escarole is the perfect amount.
- White beans – creamy cannellini beans or butter beans are preferred but chickpeas can also be used.
- Ground pork sausage – sweet Italian sausage is traditionally used instead of hot.
- Pasta – ditalini is a classic Italian soup pasta shape but harder to find. I used a gluten-free cavatappi here. Choose whichever type of pasta you prefer.
- Fresh garlic – fresh is best because this is a big flavor component of the soup.
- Chicken broth – homemade is always preferable otherwise choose a high quality bone or chicken broth.
- Parmesan cheese – confession: I prefer Pecorino Romano to parmesan and used that here, either are fine. If you have a cow’s milk sensitivity, like I do, pecorino is a sheep’s milk based hard cheese (known for its use in recipes like bucatini cacio e pepe) that’s very similar to parmesan.
- Lemon – fresh lemon juice brightens up all the savory flavors wonderfully.
- Red pepper flakes – optional for a kick of spice.
HOW TO MAKE THIS ESCAROLE SOUP RECIPE
Start the soup by sauteing the onions and olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook until softened and starting to brown.
Add the ground sausage to the pot. Break into pieces with a wooden spatula cooking until it’s browned. Add the minced garlic and give it a minute to become fragrant.
Next, add the broth, beans, rind of parmesan, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
Stir to combine all the ingredients and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the escarole to the pot, cover with a lid and lower the heat to medium-low.
Cook until the escarole has wilted completely into the soup, taking the lid off a few times to stir.
Once wilted, turn off the stove, remove the pot from the heat and add the lemon juice. Stir in the cooked pasta then season to taste with additional salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and lemon juice as needed.
MAKE IT A ONE POT MEAL
The soup can easily be made in one pot by cooking the pasta in the soup pot instead of separately.
See the recipe card below for details on how to do that because you’ll want to use more broth.
While convenient, I prefer to cook and keep the pasta separate from the escarole soup. This is especially noteworthy if you anticipate having leftovers to avoid the pasta getting soggy from soaking up all the broth.
CAN I MAKE IT VEGETARIAN?
Sure, leave out the sausage and swap the chicken broth for vegetable broth.
Sometimes escarole soup is made without sausage and already vegetarian in nature but I really love the heartiness and depth of flavor ground Italian sausage brings to this recipe.
WHAT ARE ESCAROLE GREENS?
Escarole is a leafy green vegetable in the chicory family. When you see it in the grocery store, you’ll think it looks a lot like green leaf lettuce. In fact, years ago, I once mistook it as such and was in for quite a bitter salad that evening!
Chicory are bitter greens like endive and radicchio that are wonderfully tamed when cooked slightly but quite pungent when raw (the outer leaves are more bitter than the soft, tender inner ones).
Escarole is much better enjoyed in a soup like this where it’s wilted and cooked than raw in a salad. It’s also great in Utica greens as a side dish where it’s blanched quickly then broiled to finish. If you serve the greens alongside a classic Italian main course like this chicken sorrentino recipe, it’s a wonderfully hearty meal.
That said, there’s a bit of a goldilocks situation when it comes to this green. If it’s cooked too long it will also turn excessively bitter.
That’s why when making this soup, the escarole is added at the end and cooked down just until it’s wilted into the broth.
Once that happens, the heat is turned off, the cooking process stopped and then finished off with fresh lemon juice which also helps offset any bitterness.
SWAPPING OUT OTHER GREENS
Other bitter greens can be used in place of escarole if you so choose.
Tuscan kale, dandelion greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard, beet greens or simply spinach are all leafy greens that would work well in this recipe.
A couple of favorite recipes featuring some of these greens are this simple sautéed Swiss chard I make every summer with tomatoes and these easy sautéed beet and Swiss chard greens. The latter of which is pretty much the perfect side dish to any grilled meal in the warmer months!
TIPS FOR THE BEST ESCAROLE AND BEAN SOUP
- WASH WELL – escarole is often full of dirt, make sure to give it a good cleaning otherwise you’ll end up with a gritty soup!
- DON’T OVERCOOK – As mentioned, escarole will become more bitter if cooked too long. Let it wilt into the soup then turn off the heat.
- DON’T SKIP THE RIND – Adding the rind (or at least a big hunk) of parmesan (or pecorino) to the soup is a big flavor booster.
- USE FRESH GARLIC – Garlic is a big flavor component in the soup and creates a very tasty broth. Fresh is always best but especially so in recipes like this where the ingredient list is simple and short.
- ACID IS IMPORTANT – The fresh lemon juice has a two-fold purpose: to cut the bitterness of the escarole as well as balance and brighten the otherwise savory and salty flavors of this soup. If you don’t have fresh lemon on hand, use a splash of vinegar.
MORE SOUP RECIPES TO TRY:
If you’re looking for another traditional and classic Italian soup, there’s nothing quite as delicious and comforting as Italian wedding soup.
These other recipes are also incredibly satisfying options:
Tuscan kale soup – hearty, healthy and naturally vegan.
Mung bean soup – also vegan with the added fiber and protein from nutritious mung beans.
Italian tomato pasta soup – super comforting soup using small pasta, beef and sausage in a hearty tomato base.
Ciambotta – an Italian vegetable dish that’s more like a stew than a soup but delicious!
If you make and love this recipe, please leave a ★★★★★ review below! I’d love to know how it goes. Leave a comment below if you have any questions. Tag @runningtothekitchen on Instagram & Facebook.
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion chopped
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 15 ounce can cannellini beans drained and rinsed
- rind or hunk of parmesan cheese or pecorino romano
- salt and pepper to taste
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 large bunch escarole trimmed, chopped and washed
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 8 ounces regular or GF pasta cooked separately (see note below for one pot meal)
- Add olive oil to a large pot over medium heat.
- Once hot, add the onion and sauté until starting to turn golden brown.
- Add the sausage to the pot and cook until browned. Add garlic to the sausage, cook for an additional minute until fragrant.
- Pour in the broth and beans, then stir the parmesan rind, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes into the pot. (*see note below for making this a one pot meal at this point)
- Add the prepared escarole and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce heat to low-medium and cover the pot. Simmer until the greens wilt into the soup.
- Turn off the heat, add the fresh lemon juice and season to taste with additional salt, pepper and red pepper flakes as needed.
- Add the cooked pasta and stir until combined. Serve with additional grated cheese.
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.
Gina Matsoukas is the writer, founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.