Italian Chicken and Escarole Soup

This Italian chicken soup, inspired by my grandmother's, is famous for the addition of escarole, a bitter type of endive that lends a unique flavor to an otherwise ordinary chicken soup.

Makes 8-10 servings

2-2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 celery stalks with leaves, cut into 1/4-inch slices
12 cups chicken stock or broth
1 head of escarole, chopped (about 5 cups)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup grated Reggiano-Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for garnish
2 cups cooked ditalini or other small pasta, optional*

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with tinfoil (for easy clean-up). Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over chicken. Sprinkle with several shakes of salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Cook for 30 minutes. Remove, and cool slightly. Then using a fork, shred the chicken.

2. Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium heat, add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add onions, carrots, and celery, and saute 5-7 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the cooked chicken and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce to low. Add escarole, salt, crushed red pepper, parsley, and cheese. Cook for 20-25 minutes. Taste it, and adjust seasonings as needed. Add cooked pasta, if desired. Otherwise, serve hot, and garnish each serving with additional grated cheese.

*Nan would add the cooked pasta only just before serving so it wouldn't soak up all the broth. I do the same. I'd also highly recommend serving some crusty Italian bread with this soup. How are else are you going to sop up the broth at the bottom of the bowl?