My cooking students always ask me this question. This time of the year is a transition period. I am finishing picking winter vegetables such as escarole, chicory and cabbage.
I also pick borage, which grows wild in my garden. The broccoli rabe is gone.
I had enough escarole last night to make scarole e fagioli, one of my favorite comfort foods, with dried borlotti beans from the garden. You can probably still find escarole at your farmers' market. But the soup is even better with chicory.
The other vegetables not quite ready to be picked are fava beans, peas and sweet red Italian onions from Tropea, a resort town on the west coast of Calabria. (Yes, I actually brought the onion seeds from there.)
And of course my herb garden has beautiful Italian parsley, rosemary, oregano and thyme that thrive all year long.
My dad just started the seeds for the tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. I will share some of his gardening secrets when he starts preparing the dirt.
And here is my recipe for scarole e fagioli
Scarole e Fagioli
Escarole and Bean Soup
In Calabria, my mother would make this winter minestra (thick soup) with wild greens, such as the dandelions and various chicories that grew everywhere. Nowadays we make the dish with escarole from our garden.
Typical of Calabrian minestre, this soup is thick, not brothy, with just enough liquid to bathe the beans and vegetables. The escarole should be very soft, offering no resistance. We leave the whole hot peppers in the soup and enjoy them in small bites.
1/2 pound dried cranberry (borlotti) beans, or dried cannellini beans or about 3 cups of cooked beans Kosher salt 2 pounds escarole, both ribs and leaves 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 to 3 small dried hot red peppers, tops removed and slit 3 cloves garlic, halved
Soak the beans 8 to 12 hours in water to cover generously. Drain and place in a large pot with fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, then adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook uncovered until the beans are tender, 45 minutes or more, depending on their age. Season the bean broth with salt, stirring well to dissolve the salt, then let the beans cool in the broth. You should have about 3 cups cooked beans. You can prepare the beans to this point a day or two ahead, cover, and refrigerate.
Stack the escarole leaves and cut crosswise at 2-inch intervals. Fill an 8-quart pot half full of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the escarole, pushing it down into the water. Cook until the white ribs are very tender, about 5 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Taste a piece to check for doneness. Drain and return the escarole to a clean pot. Add the olive oil, hot peppers, garlic, 3/4 cup bean broth and 3/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat and simmer briskly for 3 minutes. Add the beans, leaving the bean broth behind, and simmer 5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt. Serve hot or warm