In New England where I have lived for over thirty years, winter is long, cold and snowy. I make hearty Stews and Soups that are easy and flavorful. Beans are a staple for many of my recipes as growing up in an Italian American family, my mother cooked with different beans for variety and taste. If you haven’t tried escarole in stews and soups I highly recommend this versatile lettuce. Bitter when eaten uncook but once cooked the taste is wonderful.
We are now a family of two as my children are grown and no longer living with us. I freeze my stews and soups in individual servings for a quick lunch or dinner.
1 head of garlic, cloves separated
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion chopped
1 small fennel bulb, chopped
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for serving
2 bay leaves
2 cups dried navy beans, soaked overnight, drained
2-ounce parmesan cheese rind*
4 large sprigs basil, plus leaves for serving
1 cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted, torn, plus 2 tablespoons brine
1 head of escarole, leaves torn into 2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 1-inch-thick slices country-style bread
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Slice 1 garlic clove in half crosswise and set aside; chop the remaining garlic cloves. Heat 4 Tbsp. oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium. Cook garlic, stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add onion and fennel and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring often until onion is translucent and fennel and onion are browned around the edges, 8–10 minutes. Add lemon zest, rosemary, and ¾ tsp. red pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until rosemary is very fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add bay leaves, beans, and 8 cups water and bring to a simmer.
Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and gently simmer stew until beans are creamy and tender all the way through, 60–70 minutes. Add basil sprigs, olives and brine to stew, then add escarole in batches, letting wilt slightly before adding more; simmer just until escarole is tender, about 3 minutes. (If stew is too thick, add more water to reach desired consistency.) Stir in lemon juice; taste and season with more salt if needed. Pluck out bay leaves; cover the pot and keep stew warm over low while you make the toast. Heat broiler. Drizzle 2 Tbsp. oil total over both sides of bread and place on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt. Broil until bread is golden and toasted, about 2 minutes per side. Let cool slightly, then rub with the cut sides of reserved garlic clove.
To serve, slice toast in half and divide among shallow bowls; ladle stew over. Top with parmesan cheese, basil leaves, and more red pepper flakes and drizzle with oil. Do Ahead: Stew can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool; cover and chill.
*If you prefer a vegan stew omit the parmesan rine.
Don’t you just love the name of this brand of beans?