Native to the East Indies, endive and escarole were introduced into Egypt and Greece at a very early period and references to them appear in early history accounts.  Escarole is a member of the leafy chicory family, widely cultivated in England from at least the 1500’s and is a popular green in Sicilian cuisine. The plants were, eventually, brought to America by colonists.

Endive is closely related botanically to chicory and the two names are sometimes incorrectly used as synonyms. Escarole is another name for a type of endive with broad leaves and  “endive” is used to designate plants with narrow, finely divided, curly leaves. Equally confusing are the two types of endive plants that you will see in your produce aisle. These greens are used raw in salad, or may be cooked like spinach. The slightly bitter flavor adds zest to a mixed salad.

French Endive

Endive-Frisee

Chicory

The outer layers of the escarole plant are dark green but after peeling back a layer, it will reveal a slightly lighter shade of green. Each layer will reveal a slightly lighter shade of green, and as the leaves lighten in color, the bitterness will also significantly lessen. What this means is that in preparing a dish, one can use different layers of escarole in order to achieve a particular taste that one wants.

Few young people, these days, have ever heard of escarole and I wonder how many have ever tasted this leafy green. In the world of Italian-American foods, escarole may be second only to Sunday “gravy.” Escarole finds itself in soups, in recipes with beans and in stuffed versions. A very important use of escarole has been for a New Year’s Day soup, a soup that most Italian Americans called “Straciatella,” which means something like “rag soup.” The name comes from the way the greens and the beaten egg swirl about shapelessly in the chicken broth. Then, there is escarole and beans, one of my grandfather’s favorites.

Purchase and Care of Escarole

Choose firmly packed heads with unblemished leaves. Crispness, freshness, and tenderness are essential factors of quality. Wilted plants, especially those that have brown leaves, are undesirable, as are plants with tough, coarse leaves. Such leaves will be excessively bitter. 

How to Store: Wrap escarole in paper towels and store in an unsealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to four days.

What are the health benefits of Escarole?

Escarole is rich in many minerals and vitamins, especially folate.  A 1/2 cup serving of escarole provides 36 mg of folate.

Escarole is a good source of vitamin B complex, A, C, and K.

Escarole is high in fiber and is also an optimum source of minerals: potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, sodium, manganese, zinc, phosphorus, and selenium.

Escarole is fat free, low in carbohydrates and calories. It can be added to any diet plan and 100 grams of fresh leaves will only be around 17 calories

Escarole is enriched with a good amount of antioxidants that are derived from Vitamin A and beta-carotene. Vitamin A is also an essential vitamin for vision, healthy hair and glowing skin. Consumption of natural greens also protects from lung and oral cavity cancers.

So next time you are in the produce aisle, pick up a head of escarole and make one of the following recipes.

Sauteed Escarole                                                                                                                                                                   

Serves: 4

Italians incorporate an abundance of vegetables into their diet. This is a very typical and simple preparation of a traditional vegetable. Serve as a side dish with your favorite entrée or a pasta with a hearty tomato sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 2 heads escarole, about 1 3/4 lbs
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons pine (pignoli) nuts
  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

To prepare escarole:

Cut out the core of each head, then cut leaves into bite-sized pieces. Rinse leaves several times in cold water until all dirt has been rinsed off. Drain escarole of as much liquid as possible prior to sautéeing.

Combine olive oil and garlic in a large sauté pan and heat together over medium heat until the garlic begins to lightly brown. Be very careful not to burn garlic as it will turn bitter. Remove the garlic with tongs and discard.

Add the pine nuts, raisins, capers, and pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the pine nuts are golden and the raisins puff, about 1 minute. Add the escarole, increase the heat to medium high, and cook, tossing often, until heated through, 3 to 4 minutes. Cover the pan for a few minutes so that escarole can braise in its own liquid and lose some of its bitterness. Uncover and let liquid evaporate. Escarole is finished once it is tender (approximately 5 to 6 minutes). Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving bowl.

Escarole and Beans

This dish is best served with warm crusty Italian bread.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large heads escarole, torn into bite sized pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 (16 ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped

Directions:

Wash escarole well in several changes of water

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add garlic and cook for one minute. Mix in escarole, turning to coat with oil. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, or until tender.

Pour in beans and chicken broth, and simmer until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in parsley; simmer 10 minutes more.

Escarole Salad

Using marmalade in a dressing allows you to put a little sweetness into a salad without adding additional sugar. Orange Marmalades range in flavor and texture, so your dressing will vary, depending on which sort you choose. Some are more sweet, others more bitter. Use the marmalade you like best.

 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lukewarm water
  • 1/2 pound small button mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 4 ounces escarole (inner leaves are good for this dish), torn into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 4 ounces baby spinach (about 4 packed cups)
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • Flaky coarse sea salt

Directions:

Make the base for the dressing: In a small saucepan, combine the shallots, oil, 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt and a generous pinch of pepper. Heat over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are very soft and just lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium heatproof bowl and let cool to room temperature.

When the shallots have cooled, add the marmalade plus the orange zest, the vinegar, lemon juice and 1/8 teaspoon each fine sea salt and pepper. Whisk well to combine, then whisk in the lukewarm water.

In a large serving bowl, combine the escarole and spinach. Add the dressing and toss. Season to taste with crushed flaky coarse sea salt and pepper, then add the mushrooms and walnuts. Gently toss to combine and garnish with extra orange zest, if desired.

Caponata-Style Escarole With Fish Fillets                                                                                                                          

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 boneless, skinless salmon fillets, (6 ounces each) other firm white fish fillets
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 large head of escarole (about 1 1/2 pounds), cored and coarsely chopped (about 10 cups)
  • 10 anchovies (about 3 ounces), drained and coarsely chopped
  • 10 oil-cured black olives, halved and pitted
  • 2 tablespoons salted capers, well rinsed
  • Flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

Directions:

Thinly slice off both ends of one lemon. Cut into 8 thin slices. From remaining lemon, squeeze 2 tablespoons of juice into a bowl.

Heat oil in a large saute pan. Add the garlic to the oil and cook over moderate heat until deep golden, about 2 minutes; discard the garlic. Add the escarole to the pan along with the anchovies, olives and capers. Cook, stirring constantly, until the escarole turns bright green and wilts, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange salmon or other fish fillets on top; season with salt and pepper. Place 2 lemon slices on each fillet. Cover, and cook until salmon is opaque throughout, about 15 minutes.

Transfer salmon to a plate. Stir lemon juice into escarole mixture. Serve fish over the escarole and garnish with parsley.

Mediterranean Rice-Stuffed Escarole

Stuffed Escarole

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound lean ground beef or ground turkey breast
  • 1 large head escarole (1 1/4 pounds)
  • 3/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (pignoli)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 (12-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 3 tablespoons chopped rinsed capers
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten  or 1/4 cup egg substitute   
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in the upper third of the oven.

Quarter escarole, lengthwise, leaving base attached, and rinse well. Cook in a medium pot of boiling salted water (2 tablespoons salt for 4 quarts water) 6 minutes. Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, bring 1 quart water to a boil with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in a medium saucepan. Add rice and parboil, uncovered, 10 minutes (rice will not be tender). Reserve 1/2 cup the cooking liquid, then drain rice in a fine sieve.

Cook pine nuts in 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until pale golden, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until it begins to brown, about 1 minute. Add beef and brown. Add peppers, raisins, capers, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until raisins begin to plump, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add rice. Cool slightly, then stir in egg and 1/4 cup cheese.

Cut off and discard base from 1 escarole quarter, then gently spread leaves to create a 4-inch-wide area. With base end nearest you, place one fourth of rice mixture in center of bottom half of one escarole quarter. Fold base of leaves over rice, then fold in sides and roll up rice in escarole. Put, seam side down, in a 2-quart flameproof shallow baking dish, then repeat with remaining escarole and stuffing.

Drizzle with reserved rice cooking liquid and remaining tablespoon of oil, then sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese. Cover tightly with foil and bake until rice is tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove foil and turn on broiler, then broil 4 to 6 inches from heat until cheese is browned, 4 to 7 minutes.

 

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