Escarole Soup Just When I Needed It

Chickpea and Escarole Soup with Crispy Bread Crumbs

Oftentimes I’m completely at a loss when it comes to dinner plans. Pre-COVID, it didn’t matter so much. I’d admit defeat and we’d simply walk down to Hollywood Blvd and sit at the bar at Musso & Frank Grill – often chatting up the patrons next to us. These days bar dining is not possible. In fact, indoor restaurant dining still makes me a bit nervous. So I need some extra nudging in my last-minute menu planning. Sometimes I luck out and the perfect meal for my mood and my schedule presents itself. Thanks to the LA Times that’s how I happened to prepare this Chickpea and Escarole Soup with Crispy Bread Crumbs for a casual meal at home on an evening when, believe it or not, there was a whiff of rain in the air.

One of the pleasures of living in Southern California — rain isn’t usually one of them — is the availability of unusual vegetables to serve as inspiration. Many of them are specialized versions of something you already love, like the Martian green Romanesco cauliflower. Some are exotic varieties from another hemisphere, such as Peruvian oca, a technicolor root vegetable that can’t decide if it wants to be an Easter egg or a potato. Others like puntarelle are so crazy you might not know what to do with them. Then there are classic, old-world vegetables that aren’t so much unusual as they are unusually hard to come by. I’m talking about the chicories called for in LA Times’ Escarole Soup.

Romanesco Cauliflower and Oca


The best examples of escarole are a full 12 inches across with creamy yellow hearts in a nest of wacky green leaves pointing out in all directions. These heads are so big they can hardly be stuffed into a bag. Once home, they fill the refrigerator drawer so completely it will barely close. When you’re done wrangling one of these chicories you’ll probably wonder why you even bought such a thing.

Well, don’t fret, when you’re lucky enough to come across a perfect specimen it’s a thrill to carry it home and explore all its possibilities. After all, it’s so large and its taste and texture are so varied that there are several wonderful things that can be done with just one head of chicory.

Starting with soup. Chickpea and Escarole Soup with Crispy Bread Crumbs. 

I saw this simple but eye-catching recipe in the LA Times Food section this past Sunday. It came from Thea Baumann on one of those Sundays when I needed some menu planning inspiration. I guess I wasn’t the only cook in Los Angeles in need of Thea’s Escarole Soup nudge that day. When I walked down the hill to the Hollywood Farmers Market I actually encountered a gaggle of folks rooting around the dwindling pile of escarole from the only farmer that still had chicories this late in the season. GREG

Chickpea and Escarole Soup With Crispy Bread Crumbs 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Adapted from Thea BaumannPublished

To make fresh bread crumbs, tear two large slices (about 6 ounces) of bread into bite-size pieces and spread out on a baking sheet to go stale for at least 1 day, preferably 2. Once stale, blitz the bread in a food processor until it forms rough-textured crumbs (do not process them to a fine powder). Store in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to use.

Chickpea and Escarole Soup with Crispy Bread Crumbs


  • 6 tablespoon olive oil (divided)
  • 1 small yellow onion (peeled and finely chopped)
  • kosher salt (as needed)
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 1 (14-oz) can whole peeled tomatoes (in juice)
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 (14-oz) can chikpeas (drained and rinsed)
  • 8 ounce Yukon gold potatoes (cut into ½‑inch pieces)
  • 1 Parmesan rind (always save them for times like this!)
  • 8 ounce escarole (rinsed and chopped )
  • 2 cup fresh bread crumbs (see note)
  • finely grated Parmesan (to taste)
  • flat-leaf parsley (to taste, optional)


Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the chile flakes and garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the tomatoes and their juice and another large pinch of salt and cook uncovered and lightly mashing the tomatoes as they cook, until they break down and get thick, about 5 minutes.

Rinse out the tomato can with about 1 cup of water and add to the pot along with the chicken or vegetable broth, chickpeas, potatoes, and the rind from a wedge of Parmesan. Season with another generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender for about 20 minutes. Stir in the escarole, season with salt, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until golden but not burned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with bread crumbs, lots of grated Parmesan cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and some parsley if using.