Visit the Internet for help in cooking with ingredients at hand

Updated 5/13/2020 9:32 AM

Back in the day -- early March, or thereabouts -- I would decide on a soup recipe, and then I'd run off to the grocery store to buy the ingredients. Sometimes I might make two or three stops to get just the right veggie, spice or cut of meat.

Not so much anymore.


Now I look at what's in my fridge and pantry and then decide what's possible. Sheltering at home has changed my cooking dramatically. I experiment with what I have -- sometimes to great success, sometimes to nearly inedible failures. (There's a celery, chickpea soup you will never ever read about here!)

Regardless of a failure or two, soup is the perfect canvas for this approach.

Part of the creativity has to do with learning how to substitute ingredients. For this recipe, Escarole and White Bean soup, there are dozens of ways to change things up depending on what you have -- or don't have -- at hand. For instance:

• I didn't have escarole, but I did have spinach (which I tossed in at the very end).

• I only had two cans of cannellini beans, so I used that plus a can of garbanzo beans.

• I used dried thyme and bottled lemon juice.

If you don't have leeks, try green onions. No broth? Honestly, water (maybe with a bouillon cube) can do in a pinch. Only two cans of beans? Add some orzo or small shells to fill it out. No Parmesan rind? No worries -- pile on more shredded cheese at the end. Some shredded Swiss would be just fine here, too.

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My point being: Work with what you have.

Google your ingredients and see what you come up with. There are also plenty of apps designed just for this purpose. I use one called SuperCook. You type in your ingredients, and it gives you recipe suggestions -- some really good ones, in fact.

I also found a wonderfully simple chart for ingredient substitutions on It's a one-page cheat sheet that gives you a lot of room to maneuver.

In fact, I tacked it up on the fridge and use it when I am fretting about what I don't have -- instead of embracing what's there.

Escarole and White Bean Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 large leek, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)

3 cloves garlic, minced


2 teaspoons freshly chopped thyme

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

1 head escarole, roughly chopped


Black pepper

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

2 cups water

3 (15-oz.) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 Parmesan rind, or 1 (1-oz.) piece of Parmesan

2 bay leaves

Juice of 1 lemon

Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

In a large pot over medium heat, heat oil. Add onion, celery, and leek and cook until slightly soft. Add garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes (if using) and cook until fragrant. Add escarole and stir until wilted completely. Season with salt and pepper.

Add broth, water, beans, Parmesan rind and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Stir occasionally, mashing some beans in the pot to thicken soup. Let simmer 15 minutes, then stir in lemon juice.

Garnish with Parmesan before serving.

Serves 4

Adapted from

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