A steaming bowl of this escarole soup replete with meatballs is exactly what I imagine someone suffering the cold in the midwest would be hankering for. Here in sunny Southern California, where it smacks of Spring, it fits the bill quite nicely too. Hot and hearty, but not overly thick and heavy, this may just be the soup to carry you through all of 2012.
Thank you, Dana Bowen for sharing this terrific recipe with Saveur readers this December. An equally heartfelt thank you to Rita and Joseph for pointing it out to me. Rita declared it a winner and I couldn't agree more. The escarole soup contains two of my favorite things, meatballs and escarole! Add a mound of comforting rice, plenty of sweet onions, and a healthy dose of ground pepper and you've got a soup that is sure to satisfy.
The soup is a snap to make as long as you don't mind getting your hands dirty. Ground beef under your nails and in between your fingers is a certainty. For me rolling out meatballs is soothing work, carrying the promise of something delicious and nourishing just around the bend. The smell of the ingredients heaped up in the bowl was pure Italy, familiar and exotic all at once.
Just a couple of notes. I used fresh bread crumbs that I whizzed up in the food processor from a day old loaf of ciabatta. The recipe calls for seasoned bread crumbs, and I'm guessing that you can buy pre-seasoned breadcrumbs in a grocery store, but I didn't bother with that. I did not find the meatballs lacking due to this. I also don't own any Italian seasoning. I simply mixed together a tablespoon of oregano, basil, thyme, and marjoram. This did the trick, also without any noticeable want.
We supped on the escarole soup over the course of a few days. The soup is ever tasty the second and third go-round, but the meatballs do tend to fall apart (not necessarily a bad thing). Serve this to the young and old alike! A and I were mighty pleased and Fe. scarfed down the greens and meatballs like they were going out of style. A definite hit all round.
Dana Bowen's Escarole Soup
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus more
1/2 cup grated pecorino
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced, plus 1, minced
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced, plus 1, minced
1 small bunch parsley, minced
1 egg lightly beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large heads escarole, cored and cut in to 2-inch pieces
8 cups chicken stock
Cooked white rice, for serving
Mix beef, bread crumbs, parmesan, pecorino, 1/4 cup oil, seasoning, minced garlic and onion, parsley, egg, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Form into 30, 1 1/2-inch meatballs; chill.
Heat remaining oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the sliced garlic and onions; cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add escarole; cook until wilted, about 6 minutes. Add stock; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add meatballs; cook until meatballs are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over cooked rice; top with more parmesan and black pepper.