My mom entered a cooking contest once. She won. It was 1981. The recipe was her escarole soup. The humor in this was that my mom’s escarole soup was my least favorite dinner. I detested it. The soup was made with Italian sausage, cannellini beans, and escarole (we called it scalota). Everyone else in my family loved it. I didn’t understand what kind of voodoo had been performed on them to trick their taste buds into accepting such horrors. Then to top it off, the contest judges had chosen this recipe to crown as the winner?
Needless to say, I was mortified. My friends would see the sort of abomination I was subjected to at dinner, while they were eating their adorable tuna casseroles with velveeta and drinking Sanka or Tab.
Now that I’m an adult, I can’t imagine what I didn’t like about it. I went to a high-end Italian restaurant a while ago, and the soup of the day was just like my mom’s. I held my breath and took a taste, surprised at the amazing flavor. My dinner companions didn’t know my complicated history with escarole—they dug in and exclaimed how scrumptious the soup was. I sat there with my head swimming. Escarole is delicious? What is this sorcery?
My cousin Anne recently sent me the newspaper clipping about the recipe contest. I had Italian sausage in the freezer, and several cans of cannellini beans. All I needed was the escarole and I was ready to go. I’d never attempted to make this dish, but I felt it was time to confront my childhood perceptions.
I’m sure my parents took a break from their waltzing in Heaven to have a good belly laugh as they watched me recreate my childhood nightmare.
I reviewed my mom’s recipe and got started. I didn’t follow it exactly, but I never do. I happen to know that she never made anything from a recipe anyway—she just made it up as she went along (that’s probably where I get it from). Soon I had a pot of scalota soup simmering on the stove. All in all, the soup wasn’t difficult to make. When it was finished, it was comforting, both in the delicious warmth it provided on a chilly evening, and in the memories it brought to mind. There’s something special about tasting a flavor from your childhood (even one that wasn't a favorite)—your taste buds remember what you’ve forgotten. It’s like traveling back in time, if only for a moment. I was transported back to the wallpapered kitchen, my dad smoking a pipe at the table while I perused my Preppy Handbook.
I worried how my kids would react to this soup—I certainly didn’t care for it (to put it mildly). Surprise surprise—they liked it!
I wondered if my parents could see their grandkids enjoying the soup that I swore I would hate until the end of time. I’m sure they could, and then went back to their dinner dance in the sky. If you heard the clouds exhale, “Told you so—” last week, that message was for me. I just sat back and let the soup work its magic.
Mom’s Escarole Soup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Large onion
2 Cloves garlic, minced
2 Pounds mild Italian sausage
1 ½ Pounds escarole, washed well and chopped
1 28 oz. can pureed tomatoes
½ Cup dry white wine
4 Cups chicken broth
2 Cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
½ tsp. dried sweet basil
Dash Freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Dash Fresh sweet basil, chopped (if available)
Dash Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in soup pot. Add onion and garlic, cooking until they start to soften. Add sausage to pot. Cook until browned. Add tomatoes, wine, chicken broth, beans, escarole, and dried basil. Bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
Serve soup topped with freshly grated Romano cheese, fresh basil and pepper.
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Filed under: Soup