Have you ever had escarole?
What Is Escarole?
It's easy to mistake for lettuce, but it's actually a slightly bitter green in the chicory family with endive, frisée, and radicchio.
The leaves are a bit thick, like kale, have raggedy edges and are light green on the outside with often a pale yellow center on the inside.
You can use escarole raw in salads, use it braised in soups (especially with white beans and sausage), or grill it.
My favorite way to enjoy escarole was taught to me by my friend chef Kathi Riley, formerly of Chez Panisse and Zuni Cafe. It's a simple sauté of the greens in olive oil with garlic.
How To Cook Escarole
The trick to this is to sauté the greens while they are still a bit wet. Escarole usually needs a good rinse with water to dislodge any remaining dirt that may be lurking in its folds and curls. So while the leaves are still wet, add them to the hot pan with oil.
Hot oil and water aren't usually happy friends (splatter alert!), but in this case, you add all the leaves at once, so any splattering takes place underneath the leaves, keeping you safe from sizzling oil projectiles.
Why the water? Some parts of the escarole leaves are delicate, and can dry out in a hot pan. The water provides an extra buffer to keep the leaves from drying out while giving the escarole enough time to cook and wilt.
How To Serve Escarole
I usually eat the sautéed escarole on its own as a very simple vegetarian dish. It works also as a side green for dinner. Or, stir in some cooked white beans and Italian sausage and you'll have a complete meal.
What Does Escarole Taste Like?
Escarole is slightly bitter when it's raw, and it can be compared to the flavor of radicchio or dandelion greens. The outer leaves are usually more bitter than the inner leaves, which are a bit milder and more tender. When fresh, escarole is crisp. It keeps a somewhat firm texture when cooked, which is why it's frequently used in soups like Italian Wedding Soup.
How To Buy and Store Escarole
Look for escarole in the produce section. It's usually near the fresh lettuce. Farmers markets that sell seasonal produce will usually carry it in the cooler months. Choose escarole that is bright green with crisp, curly leaves.
If you don't use the escarole immediately, wrap it in a paper towel and store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator's vegetable crisper for four to five days. Before using the vegetable raw in a salad or cooking it, give it a thorough rinse since dirt can get trapped between the leaves.
Ways To Adapt This Recipe
- After you add the escarole to the pan in Step 2, sprinkle some Italian bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese on top.
- Instead of using olive oil, cook 4 to 5 slices of bacon in the pan. Remove the bacon and discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Sauté the escarole in the bacon fat. Crumble the cooked bacon on top of the finished escarole.
- Add capers to the escarole as it sautés.
- Add 8 ounces of canned cannellini beans before adding the escarole leaves in Step 2. When the beans are warmed through, add the escarole and sauté.
More Ways To Enjoy Cooked Greens
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- Small pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 head escarole, well rinsed (and still a little wet), leaves removed from core, torn or chopped into 3 to 4 inch pieces
- Generous pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sliced garlic and red pepper flakes (if using).
Add the escarole leaves, turn with tongs:
Once the garlic starts to cook and is fragrant, add the escarole leaves to the pan. The leaves should still be a little wet from rinsing. They'll sizzle as they hit the pan, but if you add them all at once, the oil shouldn't splatter.
Use tongs to turn the escarole over in the pan as it cooks. Sprinkle with a little salt.
When the escarole starts to wilt and is barely cooked through, remove from the heat:
Remove from the pan immediately to serve.