I came home the other day and found a plastic bag filled with four heads of escarole tied to my back fence. There was no note: just the mystery lettuce left hanging there.
I didn’t bring it in right away. After all, I live in the city and who knows what crazy person with questionable hygiene might have left it there.
But soon the mystery was solved as I checked my answering machine. My neighbor, Nina (known as “Mama Nina” to her grandchildren), left a message saying her cousin brought her a box of escarole and she didn’t know what to do with all. She suggested I could use it in a variety of dishes, including a fine escarole soup.
Instead I headed to my cookbooks and found one for “Smothered Escarole,” in “La Cucina Di Lidia, Recipes and Memories from Italy’s Adriatic Coast” by Lidia Bastianich and Jay Jacobs. It sounded good, was simple, and she suggested it be served with drier foods such as roast beef or fried chicken.
It went well with the roast beef I made last night for dinner. It tasted a little bitter, a little savory sweet.
- Escarole (1 pound, about 2 medium heads)
- Garlic (About 6 cloves, crushed)
- Olive oil (About 3 tbsp.)
- Salt (1/2 tsp.)
- Hot red pepper flakes ( 1/4 tsp.)
- Fresh black pepper (About 4 twists of the mill)
- Bacon or sausage, cooked. (Optional; I used about 1/4 pound of bacon I had leftover in my refrigerator)
What I did:
Remove the outer leaves of escarole if damaged or discolored (Nina’s escarole was fresh and beautiful, without discoloration or wilted leaves). Cut off the bases and wash the leaves twice in abundant cold water and then drain.
In a large pot, saute the garlic in oil until golden, but not brown. Add the remaining ingredients, cover and cook over moderate heat for about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat. Discard the garlic and serve immediately.
(Note: Lidia writes that when she was a child, she would often eat this as a sandwich between two slices of thick Italian bread. And if you pack it for lunch, it tastes even better as the bread absorbs some of the vegetable juices.)
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