If you enjoy easy pasta recipes with vegetables, this white bean pasta with escarole is for you. This Italian pasta dish is also healthy. It is packed with protein and veggies, making it the perfect weeknight meal for your family.
If you’re looking for a lighter option, you can also savor the wholesome goodness of Italian beans and greens without the pasta.
Elevating your bean pasta flavor
If you’re looking to elevate your bean pasta game and add a burst of flavor and color to your dishes, escarole is the perfect ingredient to consider.
The curly-topped broad leaves transition from a light color at the bottom to a rich green at the top, adding visual appeal to your culinary creations.
Escarole’s resilient leaves maintain their texture and structure when cooked, adding a pleasant mouthfeel to all your dishes, including this pasta and beans recipe.
More reasons to love this recipe
Perfect meatless main meal: Whether you’re a dedicated vegetarian or aim to reduce meat consumption, this Italian masterpiece ticks all the boxes. The combination of flavors and textures ensures a satisfying and substantial meatless main that even meat lovers will love.
Wholesome ingredients: At the heart of this recipe lies a selection of wholesome ingredients – the creaminess of white beans, the tender bitterness of escarole, and the fragrant sautéed blend of onions, celery, and garlic. When tossed with the pasta, these components form a symphony of flavors that will transport you straight to the charming trattorias of Italy.
Simple yet satisfying preparation: Cooking this Italian gem is a breeze! With straightforward steps, you’ll sauté, wilt, and combine the ingredients to create a harmonious medley of tastes. The process is as delightful as the outcome, making it a joy to prepare, whether you’re a seasoned chef or a beginner in the kitchen.
Escarole: When buying, look for heads with sturdy, unblemished leaves, indicating their freshness and quality. In this recipe, escarole adds a nutritious and flavorful element to the dish, providing vitamins A and K, folate, and fiber. [source]
Cannellini Beans: Cannellini beans, also known as white kidney beans, are creamy and mild in flavor. They also hold their shape well during cooking. It is worth mentioning that purchasing unsalted canned beans allows you to add as much canning liquid as you want to achieve the desired level of “brothiness” of the final dish.
Aromatics: Sautéed onion, celery, and garlic form the flavorful base of this recipe. This variation of an Italian soffrito adds depth and richness to the dish.
Vegetable Stock: Adding vegetable stock while cooking the escarole adds flavor and enhances the overall taste.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Great for sautéing the aromatics. You can also use it to drizzle the final dish, adding another layer of rich flavor.
Pecorino Romano Cheese: Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese or Parmesan brings a nutty and savory note to the dish.
Chili Flakes (Optional): Chili flakes are optional for those who enjoy a hint of heat in their dish.
Short Pasta: Orecchiette pasta has small cavities that hold the chunky ingredients found in this recipe. Short-form pasta like cavatelli, penne, or fusilli also works well. For a healthier option, use whole wheat cavatelli.
Let’s prep our recipe
Making good meals takes preparation. Let’s dive in!
Prepping the aromatics
Chopping the onions: Cut off both ends of one onion and remove the outer skin. Then, slice it in half. Take each half and lay it flat on your cutting board. Next, cut the onion into thin slices and then dice the slices into small, half-inch pieces.
Prepping the garlic: Begin by breaking the head of garlic into individual cloves. Once you have separated the cloves, take the flat side of your knife and crush each clove. Cut off the tips, remove the skin from each clove, and finely mince the garlic. You need six cloves for this recipe.
Chopping the celery: Start by washing 2 celery ribs with the leaves. Trim off the ends. Then, slice it in half lengthwise (if using a large rib) and dice it.
Preparing the escarole
- Start by preparing two heads of escarole, each weighing about one pound. Cut off the bottom of each head using a sharp knife and discard along with any outer leaves that are wilted or damaged.
- Then, gently separate the leaves from the core of the escarole and give it a quick rinse. Check for any dirt or bugs hiding inside.
- Chop the escarole into 1-inch pieces by cutting through the leaves in two directions. Next, fill a large bowl or basin with cold water. You can also use a salad spinner.
- Add the chopped escarole. Swish the greens to loosen any dirt or sediment. Let them sit in the water for a minute or two. Use a salad spinner basket to scoop up the escarole pieces from the water, making sure to leave any dirt or sediment behind.
- Repeat this process until the water runs clear and there is no more dirt or debris.
- Finally, spin the escarole in the salad spinner to remove any excess water.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 medium diced onion, a pinch or two of chili flakes, ½ teaspoon of Kosher salt, and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, and cook until softened about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Stir in 2 sliced celery ribs and 6 minced garlic cloves. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the garlic becomes fragrant.
- Add ½ cup of vegetable broth and bring to a simmer.
- Then lower the heat to medium-low. Add, add the chopped escarole (2 pounds), cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 7-10 minutes until the escarole is wilted and tender.
- Remove the cover, add two 15-ounce cans of drained but unrinsed cannellini beans, and cook for 7-10 minutes while leaving the pot uncovered.
- While the cannellini beans are cooking, add about half a pound of orecchiette, or your favorite short pasta, to a large pot of salted boiling water and cook according to the package instructions minus 2 minutes.
- The pasta should almost be at the “al dente” stage. This means there is still a little resistance when chewing it as we will finish cooking it with the escarole and beans.
- Reserve 2-3 cups of the pasta water before draining it. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the escarole and beans. Stir to combine. Add the reserved pasta water if too dry.
- Turn off the heat and stir in ½ cup (or more according to personal taste) of freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
- Taste and adjust for seasonings.
For the final touch, garnish with freshly grated cheese, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, or a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes.
How to Cook Pasta
For tips on optimal pasta cooking techniques, be sure to consult this article on how to cook pasta,
Cook pasta al dente: A perfect texture is key to a fantastic pasta dish. Cook the pasta until it’s almost al dente, meaning it’s cooked but still firm to the bite, before combining it with the white beans and escarole. Overcooking the pasta can produce a mushy texture, spoiling the overall experience.
Save pasta water: Reserve 2-3 cups of pasta water before draining the cooked pasta. This starchy water serves as a secret ingredient to create a light and flavorful sauce that beautifully binds all the ingredients together.
Experiment with herbs: Elevate the flavors of your white bean pasta with escarole by adding fresh herbs like Italian parsley, basil, or thyme. These aromatic additions will infuse the dish with a burst of freshness and brighten up every bite.
Embrace seasonal variations: During the summertime, take advantage of your backyard garden’s fresh produce by using homegrown escarole. Alternatively, feel free to swap escarole with other greens like kale, Swiss chard, or spinach. Just remember to adjust the cooking time accordingly for the best results.
White bean variety options: Get creative with your white beans by experimenting with different types, such as white navy beans, cannellini beans, or white kidney beans. Each variety lends its unique touch to the dish, allowing you to discover new flavor combinations.
Perfect leftovers: If you find yourself with leftovers, keep them just as great tasting as the first serving. Reserve some of the starchy pasta water, and when reheating the pasta the following day, add a splash of it to retain the dish’s original texture and taste.
Yes, you can use dried white beans for this dish. However, they require soaking overnight and longer cooking times. Canned beans are more convenient, but if you prefer dried beans, plan ahead for the soaking and cooking process.
Yes, this dish can easily be made vegetarian or vegan. Ensure you use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, and skip the addition of cheese if you’re making it vegan. The combination of white beans and escarole provides ample protein and flavor for a satisfying plant-based meal.
Unfortunately, this dish doesn’t freeze well due to the delicate nature of the greens. It’s best to enjoy the leftovers within a day or two.
Absolutely! If you prefer a creamier texture, you can easily achieve it by pureeing a portion of the canned white beans before adding them to the dish. Drain the beans, then take a cup and blend them in a food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth. You can add a little pasta water if the consistency is too thick.
Crusty bread: Serve the pasta with crusty bread or focaccia to sop up all the flavors.
Salad: A fresh Italian green salad dressed in a zesty vinaigrette would be a great side to the pasta.
Like many Italian immigrants, my parents and grandparents cultivated a thriving backyard garden with fresh leafy greens, including escarole, mustard greens, rapini Swiss chard, and dandelion greens, aka cicoria.
If interested, I’ve shared a few pictures of the garden in the backyard of my parents’ house in this article on sauteed Swiss chard.
As time passed and my palate evolved, I gradually began to appreciate the significance of this classic Italian recipe. Passed down through generations, the combination of white beans, escarole, and homemade pasta embodies the essence of comforting Italian cuisine.
The dish’s simplicity evokes memories of wholesome and nourishing meals my mom and Nonna prepared with love. As I share it with family and friends, I find joy in reminiscing about the vibrant garden and the flavors of my youth.
I hope that by trying this recipe, you not only experience the delicious flavors but also create cherished moments that evoke fond memories, especially for those who grew up with the rich heritage of Italian cuisine.
THANKS SO MUCH for following and being part of the She Loves Biscotti community, where you will find Simple & Tasty Family-Friendly Recipes with an Italian Twist.
Ciao for now,
★★★★★ If you have made this easy pasta recipe with white beans, I would love to hear about it in the comments below and be sure to rate the recipe!
Easy White Bean Pasta with Escarole
- 3 tablespoons olive oil extra virgin
- 1 medium onion medium, diced
- 1-2 pinches chili flakes optional
- ½ teaspoon salt Kosher
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 stalks celery sliced
- 6 cloves garlic minced or grated
- ½ cup vegetable stock homemade or commercial
- 2 heads escarole rinsed and chopped into ½-inch pieces, about 2 pounds
- 2 15 ounce canned white cannellini beans drained not rinsed
- 8 ounces orecchiette or other short pasta
- ¼-½ cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. optional, according to taste
- grated cheese optional
- drizzle extra virgin olive oil optional
- Heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the diced onion, a pinch or two of chili flakes, Kosher salt, and black pepper, and cook until softened about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Stir in the sliced celery ribs and the minced garlic cloves. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the garlic becomes fragrant.
- Add ½ cup of vegetable broth and simmer. Then lower the heat to medium-low, add the chopped escarole (2 pounds), cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 7-10 minutes until the escarole is wilted and tender.
- Remove the cover, add the drained but unrinsed cannellini beans and cook for an additional 7-10 minutes while leaving the pot uncovered. It is worth noting that if you use canned beans without salt, you can add as much canning liquid as you prefer to achieve your desired "brothiness."
- While the cannellini beans are cooking, add about half a pound of orecchiette, or your favorite short pasta, to a large pot of salted boiling water and cook according to the package instructions minus 2 minutes. The pasta should almost be at the “al dente” stage. This means there is still a little resistance when chewing it as we will finish cooking it with the escarole and beans.
- Reserve 2-3 cups of the pasta water before draining it.
- Add the cooked, drained pasta to the escarole and beans. Stir to combine. Add the reserved pasta water if too dry.
- Turn off the heat and stir in ½ cup of freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese.
- Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Serve with a slice of Italian crusty bread. Garnish with freshly grated cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, or a squirt of lemon juice.