A lot of the recipes I cherish come from my family; solid farming folk from upstate New York and Kentucky; my grandmother Norma’s corn pudding, baked beans, Switchel and German potato salad (which is probably more like Pennsylvania Dutch style and NOTHING like that horrid gelatinous stuff in a can or served at buffets) and “Grammy” Mahala Joe’s pimento cheese, coca cola ham, jam cake and Kentucky Wonder pole beans that cooked all day with a little fat back and to this day is the one exception I will make to my “crisp tender” rule for vegetables. Lordy they were good!
But not all my favorite recipes are traditional. Some my children never had at my table growing up. My parents were fairly adventurous when it came to trying different foods, “ethnic” foods, even though they had not been exposed to much diversity themselves. My mother told me once she never tasted pizza until she was in her late teens! But we didn’t have much money and eating at restaurants was reserved for very special adult occasions or emergencies on the road. Now Rochester, New York, is hardly what you’d call a mecca of haute cuisine. But one thing I will say is that we have a lot of darn good, real deal, Italian restaurants. One dish that is a staple is “Greens and Beans”. Sometimes it’s an appetizer, sometimes a soup, sometimes a main course. Nothing fancy – escarole and cannellini beans. Italian soul food. The first time I had it was at a little hole in the wall place in a suburban strip mall in Webster, Proietti’s. I’ve tried it in probably 5 or 6 other places and they’ve all been good – but they’re not Proietti’s. I read somewhere that their recipe was featured in Bon Appetit. Yeah, it’s that good.
After having a wonderful dish out, I will often try to replicate it at home. After some experimentation I came up with a reasonable approximation, very tasty IMHO, and my husband and family have given it the “More Please” seal of approval, so it has become a staple. The fact that it goes together with a minimum of prep time and is pretty forgiving (read, you don’t have to measure anything) doesn’t hurt either. The way I make it may not be authentic, but it’s a simple nutritious meal in a bowl made with easily available inexpensive ingredients and my family loves it. That makes it soul food in my book.
What you’ll need: a pound or so of bulk Italian sausage (I have used hot, mild, poultry. Use whatever you like, or none at all); a bag of chopped escarole (6-8 cups fresh); 1 quart chicken stock or broth; 2 tablespoons or more minced garlic, 1 c dry or semi-dry white wine, 1-2 cans cannellini (white) beans; coarse ground black pepper; grated Parmesan cheese.
Brown the crumbled sausage in a sauté pan, then remove from pan and set aside or put in a stock pot.
In the fat left in the pan, gently sauté the escarole and garlic until the greens are wilted.
Remove the wilted greens to the stock pot. Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook over medium heat until reduced by half. About this time is when my husband stops what he is doing to see what smells so good.
Oh, did I mention – that nice bottle of wine in the ingredients photo?
Yeah, I didn’t use that. I’m saving that for dinner. I used the box. Like I said, this recipe is very forgiving!
Next throw the beans in with the sausage and escarole, then add the wine (and any yummy bits therein) from your pan. Last, add the chicken stock and a little pepper and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Have a glass of that nice Sauvignon Blanc while you wait.
Just before serving, garnish generously with grated Parmesan cheese, break off a piece of crusty bread and finish that bottle of wine with your favorite folks around the table.