Few scents evoke an emotional response like that of bread as it rises to perfection in a hot oven. Taste buds awaken, eyes widen, stomachs rumble,...
If you are like me, the frenzy over kale has left me ignoring other delicious greens that I used to cook with on a more frequent basis. Beautiful, slightly bitter escarole falls into this category. My mother put escarole in everything and I had forgotten just how much I adore this beautiful leafy green. Recently, I spotted a fluffy head staring at me forlornly at the local market and it prompted me to take a few heads of this gorgeous green home. The taste immediately transported me back to my childhood and I have been on a bit of a cooking jag with my little escarole friend over the past few weeks.
This slightly bitter, jagged edge green is excellent eaten both cooked and raw. The tender paler green inner leaves are spectacular dressed with a bit of lemon and shaved Parmigiano. The leaves sautéed with a bit of garlic until wilted are splendid atop a crusty crostini or stirred into some warm pasta. I have included two recipes here that transport me back to our little kitchen in New Jersey. One recipe hails from my paternal grandparents region, Le Marche, where escarole is married with creamy chickpeas in a pork-infused broth. The other, with a nod to my Sicilian grandparents, pairs the slightly bitter taste of the escarole with the sweetness of raisins and pine nuts – my absolutely favorite way to make this wonderful green.
Whatever your desire, I urge you to perhaps skip over the kale just this and find yourself a wonderful head of escarole to take home – just like our mothers and grandmothers did so many years ago. Your tummy will thank you for it.
(Chickpea and Escarole Soup)
·3 tablespoons olive oil
·3 or 4 large pork ribs, separated (about ½ to ¾ pound)
·1 large onion, chopped
·2 stalks celery, chopped
·2 cloves garlic, chopped
·1 tablespoon tomato paste
·1 quart chicken stock
·1 (14 ½ ounce) can diced tomatoes
·2 (15 ½ ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
·Freshly ground black pepper
·1 head of escarole, washed and trimmed
·Extra virgin olive oil
Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the pork ribs. Sauté until lightly browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove the ribs from the pot. Set aside. Add in the onion, celery and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are soft and translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add in the tomato paste and sauté until thickened a bit. Add the stock and tomatoes and stir to incorporate. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the ribs back into the pot. Cover pot and simmer for 1 hour.
Increase the heat to medium. Add the chickpeas and simmer for about 10 minutes. Taste. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Cut the escarole into large pieces and add to the pot. Simmer until wilted, about 3-5 minutes.
Turn off the heat and let sit for a few minutes. Ladle into heated bowls. Drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with crusty bread and pass the Parmigiano!
·½ cup raisins
·1 medium or large head of escarole
·5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
·6 cloves garlic, chopped
·4 anchovies in oil, chopped
·½ cup breadcrumbs
·Freshly ground black pepper
·1/3 cup pine nuts
·2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
·1/3 cup white wine
·1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock, homemade or low sodium
In a small bowl, soak the raisins in hot water for about 15 minutes, allowing them to soften.
Gently wash and dry the escarole, removing all the dirt.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium low heat. Add the garlic and cook, until fragrant, for about 30 seconds. Add in the anchovies and sauté for another minute. Stir in the breadcrumbs and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Season with pepper and a little salt, if needed. Remove from heat.
Drain the raisins. In a small bowl, mix together the raisins and pine nuts. Add about 2/3 of this mixture to the breadcrumb mixture. Stir in the Parmesan. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Now for the fun part! Carefully spread the escarole leaves open and stuff the filling in the nooks and crannies of the leaves. Close up the leaves and tie kitchen string around the escarole to secure. Stuff any filling that may have fallen out back in between the leaves.
Heat remaining oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium low heat. Sprinkle in the reserved raisins and pine nut mixture. Place in the escarole bundle. Add in the white wine and stock. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat until the escarole is tender, about 25-30 minutes. Remove the escarole to a cutting board and cut the string. Cut into quarters or crosswise into slices and serve. Drizzle with any juices in the pan and sprinkle with additional Parmesan if desired.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.