At just about any Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh, you will find Italian-style beans and greens, or Scarola e Fagioli , on the menu. This hearty dish is typically a side dish but is sometimes served as a soup, and is always served with a piece of crusty Italian bread and parmesan cheese sprinkled over top.
This classic Italian (or Italian-American) dish is a “peasant dish”. Many people will tell you that it originated in the U.S., not in Italy, but that is debatable. Beans and Greens quite possibly originated in Southern Italy, where many of Pittsburgh’s Italian residents immigrated from in the late 1800s.
At that time, the ingredients would have been inexpensive. You would have been able to feed a lot of people and fill them up for quite a while, for very little money. That still holds true today.
I’ve tried many versions throughout Pittsburgh, but my all-time favorite is from Colangelo’s restaurant in the historic Strip District. Whenever I have a chance to stop by for lunch, that is one of the first things I order. I always have extra to take home and enjoy later!
I decided to try my hand at making my own and this recipe captures what I love about this dish. It has a bit of a spicy kick that is balanced by the potatoes and cannellini beans. Potatoes are not, by all accounts, a traditional part of the dish. I think they add texture and help carry the flavors throughout the dish so are a nice addition. Instead of sausage, which is found in many versions, I use pancetta in mine. I usually pick that up on a trip to the Strip District at Parma Sausage. You can also find it at most grocery stores in the deli section. I think the pancetta adds just enough of a savory note without overpowering the beans and escarole, like sausage often does.
So, this is my homemade version of Beans and Greens. I added Italian bread on the side to sop up any extra broth. Don’t forget to top it with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese for an extra flavor boost. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
Are you familiar with Beans and Greens? How do you make it?
Italian Style Beans and Greens
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 cup diced pancetta (about 4 oz.)
- 2 cups sliced leeks (1/4 inch strips) washed and cleaned. White and light green part only
- 2 garlic cloves, minced about 1 tsp.
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2-1/2 cups diced red potatoes (about 2 medium size)
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 15 oz. can cannellini beans rinsed and drained
- 6 cups shredded escarole tough center stem removed
- 4 slices Italian bread
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
- In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add pancetta and cook until crispy, about 4 minutes. Remove to a papertowel lined plate and drain all but 1 Tbsp. fat from the pan . Add the leeks and garlic. Cook until the leeks are soft about 2 – 3 minutes
- Add pancetta back to the pan with the leeks and garlic. Add white wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in red potatoes, chicken broth, basil, oregano, parsley, and red pepper. Cover and cook until potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes.
- Add cannellini beans and escarole and cook until escarole is wilted and beans are heated through – about 3 minutes.
- Serve in a shallow bowl over a slice of crusty Italian bread and sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese on top.