When I started this soup I had something in mind for the end result - a brothy soup with whole tender beans, tender chopped greens, bits of ham, and flavor provided by a sofrito cooked separately and added near the end. I've come to like hardy winter greens cooked to melting tenderness, so I decided to put the Spigariello Broccoli into the soup early. Well, I put it in so early it became so meltingly tender it pretty much melted into the soup. It looked like I had stirred a generous amount of pesto into the soup. When I saw that I thought I really made a mess of it this time, but when I tasted it I was amazed at how good it was. Definitely good enough to make again.
So, a bit about Spigariello Broccoli. It bears almost no resemblance to the broccoli that we commonly find here in the US. There is no big central head or really any head at all. The plant forms one strong central shoot with numerous side shoots. Very small flower heads eventually form, which is when I start harvesting shoots. If you cut the shoots above the bottom 1 or 2 leaf nodes the plant will send out new shoots and you can continue to harvest for many weeks. The star attraction of Spigariello is the leaves. You really don't have to wait for flower heads to develop, start harvesting the leaves to use like kale or spinach as soon as the plants are big enough. When the flower heads develop, harvest the shoots and trim off any tough bottom portions, then cook the shoots, leaves and all, like you would any other sprouting broccoli.
Seed sellers seem to have a difficult time classifying Spigariello. It's most often listed with broccoli offerings, but can also be found with rapini. In terms of flavor it has much more in common with broccoli since it lacks the bitterness characteristic of rapinis. However, its use in the kitchen seems to be more like rapini or kale.
I used Mayacoba beans that I purchased from Rancho Gordo. Your basic Great Northern white bean would be a fine substitute. Or if you like them, Canellini would be ok. I'm not a Canellini fan, their texture is too waxy for my taste. Although, Rancho Gordo has a Runner Canellini that is fantastic. The sofrito is added near the end because it is salty and salting beans too early supposedly keeps them from becoming tender - I'm not sure about that but I decided not to chance it.
Bean Soup with Spigariello Broccoli
1/2 pound dried beans, presoaked
1/2 pound Spigariello Broccoli shoots
1 ounce guanciale or bacon, finely diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 very large carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 very large sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon (about) minced fresh rosemary
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup diced oven roasted cherry tomatoes, or sundried tomatoes
1/2 pound ham, diced
a drizzle of vinegar
fresh ground pepper to taste
Put the presoaked beans into a large pot with 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer, partly covered.
While the beans are cooking prepare the Spigariello broccoli. Remove the largest bottom leaves from the broccoli shoots, trim off the leaf stems and discard, coarsely chop the leaves. Cut off and discard any tough bottoms from the shoots (if the stalks are large enough you can peel off the tough skin and use the tender inner parts). Cut the shoots crosswise into pieces. Add the chopped broccoli to the beans and continue to simmer, partly covered.
Put the guanciale or bacon in a medium skillet over medium low heat. Saute the guanciale or bacon until crisp. Add the carrot, onion, and rosemary to the skillet, turn the heat up a bit and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables start to brown. Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the minced garlic and chopped tomatoes and set aside.
When the beans are nearly tender (the amount of time to this stage will vary depending on the age of the beans - the older they are the longer it takes), stir in the sauteed vegetable mixture (sofrito) and diced ham; continue to cook the soup until the beans are fully tender but not falling apart. Taste for salt (I added none because of the saltiness of the guanciale and ham), add a splash of vinegar (amazing how a touch of vinegar can brighten the flavor), and grind in some fresh black pepper.
Serves at least 4.