By America’S Test Kitchen The Associated Press
In Sicily, chickpeas are the favoured legume to use in soup. In this version the mild bean shares the stage with escarole. We knew that dried chickpeas were the way to go for our traditional soup because we could infuse them with lots of flavour as they cooked.
For aromatics, we started with the classic flavours of the region: onion, garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. We also added fennel, which grows wild throughout Sicily; its mild anise bite complemented the nutty chickpeas. A strip of orange zest added a subtle citrus note, while a Parmesan rind bolstered the chickpeas’ flavour with a nutty richness and complexity. When stirred in for the last 5 minutes of cooking, the escarole leaves wilted until velvety and the stems retained a slight crunch.
To speed up the process if you’re tight on time, you can use our quick-salt-soak method for the beans: Combine the salt, water and chickpeas in a Dutch oven and bring them to a boil over high heat. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans and proceed with the recipe. The Parmesan rind can be replaced with a 2-inch chunk of the cheese.
SICILIAN CHICKPEA AND ESCAROLE SOUP
Start to finish: 2 hours 30 minutes
Salt and pepper
1 pound (2 3/4 cups) dried chickpeas, picked over and rinsed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
2 fennel bulbs, stalks discarded, bulbs halved, cored, and chopped fine
1 small onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 cups vegetable broth
1 Parmesan cheese rind, plus I cup grated Parmesan for serving
2 bay leaves
1 (3-inch) strip orange zest
1 head escarole (1 pound), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large tomato, cored and chopped
Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water in large container. Add chickpeas and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.
Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add fennel, onion, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until vegetables are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, oregano, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir in 7 cups water, broth, drained chickpeas, Parmesan rind, bay leaves, and orange zest and bring to boil. Reduce to gentle simmer and cook until chickpeas are tender, 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours.
Stir in escarole and tomato and cook until escarole is wilted, 5 to 10 minutes.
Off heat, remove bay leaves and Parmesan rind (scraping off any cheese that has melted and adding it back to pot). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle individual portions with grated Parmesan, drizzle with extra oil, and serve.