Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sicilian Chickpea and Escarole Soup

Photo courtesy of Nanther Thangarajah
When we were designing the menu for Guest Chef Night, both Clare's father, Frank, and I went through a few recipes trying to decide upon a primi or first course (after the antipasta or appetizer).  Initially, we thought about a pasta; however, we could not find a pasta recipe that would fit with the overall menu.

Frank found a recipe for Sicilian Chickpea and Escarole soup, which he had made for friends in the past and which had gotten great reviews.  The recipe includes an interesting selection of ingredients, including garlic, chickpeas, fennel, onions, escarole, anchovies and the Parmigiano Reggiano rinds.  We decided to do this soup for Guest Chef Night and, once again, it got rave reviews from the guests.

The recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen and calls for the use of chicken broth.  Both Frank and I wanted to make sure that this soup could be enjoyed by everyone, including my beautiful wife Clare who does not eat meat.  So, we modified the recipe to use vegetable stock.  When we made this soup for Guest Chef Night, we used a homemade vegetable stock that Frank carefully made over the course of a couple of days.  Homemade stock is always better than store-bought stock.  If you do not want to make your own stock, look for a vegetable stock that is low in sodium.

While I am not a big fan of vegetable soups, I love this soup.  So did everyone who came to the Guest Chef Night.   The use of the Parmigiano Reggiano rinds provides a depth and richness to this soup that complements the flavors of the fennel and anchovies.  I highly recommend this soup.   

Recipes from Soups, Stews and Chilis, America's Test Kitchen at 148-149
Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds of fennel bulbs, trimmed of stalks
     cored and chopped fine
1 small onion chopped medium
1 can of chickpeas
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
     (or 1/2 teaspoons of dry oregano)
2 anchovy fillets, minced
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
7 cups of water
5 cups of vegetable broth
1 five inch long piece of Parmigano Reggiano rind
2 bay leaves
1 three inch long strip of zest from an orange
1 large tomato cored, and chopped medium
1 pound of escarole, tripped and cut into 1 inch pieces
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper to taste
8 to 10 slices of toasted garlic bread
1 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1.  Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or cast iron pot over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the fennel and onion.  Cook until the vegetables are softened, which should be about seven or eight minutes.  Stir in the garlic, oregano, anchovies and crushed red pepper flakes.  Cook until fragrant, about thirty seconds.

2.  Stir in water, broth, soaked chickpeas, Parmigiano Reggiano rind, bay leaves, and zest.  Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer.  Cook until the chickpeas are tender, which should take about one and one-half hours.

3.  Stir in the tomato and continue to simmer for twenty minutes longer.  Then stir in escarole and cook until wilted, which should take about five to ten minutes more.

4.  Remove from the heat.  Remove bay leaves and the cheese rind (scraping off any cheese that has melted back into the soup.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5.  To serve, place the toasted garlic bread on the bottom of the bowl.  Ladle the soup over the top of the bread. Sprinkle grated Parmigiano Reggiano over the soup and drizzle lightly with additional olive oil.


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