There are many variations of soups featuring beans and greens. They are all easy to make (although not quick, if you are using dried beans) and full of nutrients. They are also full of flavor. Such soups are an integral part of the peasant cuisine of Puglia, as beans and greens grow abundantly in this sunny region. Even in modern times, when meat is more affordable than it has ever been, the Puglian diet remains deeply rooted in vegetables and legumes. Escarole is not a very common green, but it’s worth seeking out, as it adds layers of flavor to this simple soup. It is a member of the endive family but is less bitter than many other types of endive and has a complex flavor. Although you can use a different green in this soup (such as dandelion, kale, or even spinach), nothing will give you the same unique flavor that escarole will.
1. Rinse the soaked beans and put them in a pot with the chopped garlic. Add enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches (5 cm). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the beans are tender (about 1½ to 2 hours, depending on how fresh the beans are).
2. When the beans are done, boil the chopped escarole in 1 quart of water until it wilts. Do not drain. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the onions and sauté until they are tender. Add the tomatoes and cook another 2 minutes, until the tomatoes release some of their liquid. Add the red pepper flakes. When the onion mixture is cooked, combine it with the cooked escarole and the reserved cooking liquid and add the entire mixture to the cooked beans. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes for the flavors to blend. Season with salt and add more red pepper, if necessary.
3. Serve hot with the grated cheese and toasted crusty bread.
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