1 head garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), plus some for drizzling
Salt and pepper
3/4 pound fresh sweet Italian sausage (optional)
1 large bulb fresh fennel, quartered and cored, then thinly sliced (reserve a few fronds for garnish)
1 onion, quartered lengthwise, then thinly sliced
A few sprigs each thyme and rosemary, tied together with kitchen twine
2 fresh bay leaves
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup ditalini or other short-cut pasta with lines
1 can cannellini beans (24-28 ounces), rinsed well and drained
1 small head or bundle escarole or chard, stemmed and shredded
Grated Pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, for passing at table (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 425°F.
Cut the end off the head of the garlic; drizzle with EVOO and season with salt and pepper. Wrap the garlic head in foil and roast until soft, 40-45 minutes. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into a small bowl and mash with a fork.
Heat the EVOO in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, if using, and brown and crumble into small bits. Remove and drain, leaving about 1 1/2 tablespoons or so of drippings to cook in. Add the fennel and onion to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes to soften, then add mashed the garlic, herbs and stock. Bring to a boil – add 1-2 cups water if you like a thin, brothy soup.
When the soup comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the white beans and reserved sausage. Continue to cook the pasta to al dente, 4-5 minutes more. Turn off the heat and wilt in the greens, if using.
Serve in shallow bowls topped with fennel fronds and cheese, if using. This is one of many "Yum-o!" recipes – it's good and good for you. To find out more about Yum-o!, Rachael's nonprofit organization, go to www.yum-o.org.