Wednesday, May 5, 2010

the mark bittman minimalist club: soup no. 2

Before we get started here, I'd like to ask that you consider the soup I'm about to share—soup no. 2, Escarole Soup With Rice—with an open mind. Because I fear that you're biased against it. I fear that by confessing in my last post that this soup, soup no. 2, would probably lose in a soup deathmatch to soup no. 1, Asparagus, Pancetta, and Rice Soup, you've already decided you'll never make it. Which, to be frank, is terribly judgmental of you. And while it's fine to be judgmental of teabaggers and hipsters in skinny jeans and books based on their covers, let us not judge food before we've tasted it, shall we, bitches?

Or shall we?

A confession: I judged this soup as soon as I read the recipe. For starters, I'd just spent nearly a week eating soup no. 1, which is so tasty I was sure this one couldn't compare. And the spring vegetable featured in this soup is escarole, which is basically bitter lettuce,

whereas the spring vegetable in soup no. 1 is asparagus, which is basically delicious. Also, the asparagus soup contains pancetta, and it's pretty hard to top pancetta, unless you are topping it with bacon, and there is no bacon in soup no. 2.

But it turns out soup no. 2 has its own secret weapon: toasted garlic.

And it turns out the escarole sweetens as it cooks, so the finished dish isn't full of bitter lettuce, it's swimming with tender ribbons of greens. This soup's only flaw may actually be aesthetic—the escarole is delicious after it's been sautéed with the onions and braised in the broth, but its color turns to army green.

Overall, soups no. 1 and 2 are very similar: broth is host to some rice, a spring vegetable, and a secret weapon, and both soups are enhanced by a good dose of Parmesan. And they're both easily modified, either to look more like each other, or something else entirely: use pancetta here; enhance the asparagus soup with toasted garlic; substitute the white for brown rice; add bacon. No, seriously: Why not add some bacon?

Escarole Soup With Rice
From the New York Times

¼ cup (4 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely minced, plus 4 or 5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
½ cup chopped onions [I used one medium yellow onion.]
4 cups coarsely chopped escarole (about one head) [my head of escarole yielded more than 4 cups, closer to 6 or 8, so I upped the quantities of everything else.]

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock, or water [I used a combination of Imagine No-Chicken Broth and my favorite bouillon, for a total of about 8 or 9 cups]
¼ cup short-grain white rice, like arborio [I closer to ½ cup of arborio, but I think any white rice would do.]
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Put 2 tablespoons oil in a large, deep saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add onions and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 more minutes [I went closer to 10]. Add escarole and cook, tossing gently, until it begins to wilt, about another 3 minutes.

2. Add stock and rice to the pan, bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and cook about 20 minutes or until rice is tender.

3. Meanwhile, put remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a small skillet. When oil is hot, add sliced garlic and cook over medium-low heat until it turns golden brown and begins to crisp. Remove garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside.

4. When rice is cooked through, season soup with salt and pepper, top with a grating of Parmesan and garnish with garlic slivers. [I added plenty of Parm and ended up crumbling the garlic slivers into the soup.]


  1. LOL, but all you've done here is convince me to make soup # 1....

    If only I could fuse Mark Bittman and Gail Collins, my two favorite Times columnists, I would have the perfect spouse---witty, with tremendous taste for simple flavorful food and politically on target...I'd better get down to the laboratory and go to work..or maybe I'll just make the soup....

  2. Do me a favor, DED, and at least try the toasted garlic. It's good in soup, on salads, with scrambled eggs...

    And personally, I'm on the verge of breaking up with Mark Bittman and taking up full time with Skye Gyngell, creator of the asparagus soup. But maybe I'll just date them both for now.

  3. Because I am your disciple and will do nearly anything you tell me to, I made soup #2 last night. My observations are these: First, safflower oil is not a suitable replacement for olive oil (I had enough EVOO for half of the oil needs - choosing between the other four oils in my pantry, I misguidedly opted for safflower). Next, the rice really didn't hold up (I used arborio also) - I expected it to maintain more of its structural integrity. I'm not saying you let me down, just, you know, the rice was soggy. Finally, who knew lettuce soup could be so tasty?

  4. I'm wondering what it would taste like minus the know, broth, onion, toasted garlic, rice, plenty of parmesan...Somehow I don't think that lettuce is adding much.

    On a different note, could our splendid chef please research ways to use sorrel (delicious) and keep it from looking like crud when cooked? It is so tasty but the most unappetizing color I have ever served.

  5. I have to say this might be the most gruelish thing yet on this blog! It's grey for god's sake. I am not sure about lettuce soup and by not sure I mean I want you to make me some of those GD chocolate chip cookies again please!

  6. Just had this particular gruel for lunch sans extra parm and the toasted garlic. And, in that configuration, I have to agree that it earned it's gruel status and then some. I felt it necessary to have half a raspberry pastry and a piece of marble pound cake to counter the healthy effects that I subjected my body to by eating lettuce soup. Also, I'll take one of them GD cookies when you get around to baking them!

  7. Too many beers, jshu, or too many recipes?

    Thank you, William, for trying the soup. And my boyfriend Mark Bittman thanks you, as well. I didn't have your problems with the soggy rice, though the arborio (which my boyfriend Mark Bittman insists in his column is the only rice to use in this soup) definitely cooks up more softly than long grain. My boyfriend Mark Bittman calls it "creamy." And I dared not try this soup without the garlic and Parm, so it never seemed overly gruelish to me. However I end every meal with, at the very least, some dark chocolate, or when I'm feeling motivated and have 36 hours to wait around for it, one of those GD cookies, which perhaps explains my high tolerance for gruel for dinner.

    EBiddie, the escarole actually does add a nice flavor to the soup, and if you're going to leave it out, why not just add the pancetta and asparagus and make soup no. 1? Or leave out the broth, rice, escarole, and garlic, add flour, sugar, eggs, and chocolate chips, and make those GD cookies everyone's clamoring for? Could you do that for us, please?

  8. Seriously, someone needs to make me those GD cookies immediately if not sooner. I don't know if you know but I take care of a sweet little non-weiner dog a lot! I'll take some of those cookies as back pay. Thank you and goodbye.

  9. I'm with LL and need some of those GD cookies NOW. Don't you have a little leftover dough hiding in your freezer? If jshu ever wakes up, maybe he could produce them. There's something about lettuce soup that really brings out my cookie cravings.