In Season: Escarole
In a perfect world, I would cook solely by the clockwork of the seasons, galloping out to a vegetable garden, perhaps in a Georgian-era empire waist dress if I were feeling historical, a straw basket hooked over my arm and a heavy cast iron pot on the stove that I would have to ask the stable boy to reach off a high shelf in the kitchen since last week he plowed in while I was teetering on a stool for the damn thing and caught sight of my ankles (horrors!). But alas, it’s all I can do to keep the rosemary on my modern day windowsill alive and change out of my nightgown each day. Elizabeth Bennet I ain’t (and she would really only be picking flowers, not dark leafy greens, nor can I imagine her giving a damn should someone see her fine, athletic ankles, but I digress…); I’m more apt to pick up my produce at the slightly dodgy local supermarket than make my way to a farmer’s market midweek. Even still, I like to select what should, in theory, be at its peak.
This last week, I could hardly believe how lovely the escarole looked under the unflattering fluorescent lighting. Escarole, you say, who cares? Well, yeah, it’s not as sexy or beloved as some other winter greens like kale, but escarole has its place. Even the editors of Everyday Food put a little winter spotlight on this fellow in their Jan/Feb issue. Poor escarole, really, as it is so overlooked; it’s very slightly bitter, but not so much as broccoli rabe, slightly snappish, but not so much as arugula. More than anything, it has a wonderfully mild, sweet quality. I’d even go so far to say its flavor could pinch-hit for spinach in a dish, but I don’t want to sound like I’ve fallen right off my rocker.
After the jump, a recipe for escarole and lentil soup (and a few other choice recipes) that will showcase your escarole whether it’s from your garden, farmer’s market, or shabby bargain basement produce department.
Escarole Lentil Soup with Turkey Sausage Meatballs
1 2/3 cups lentils (11 ounces), rinsed well
5 cups water
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped, divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian turkey sausage links, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 pound escarole, chopped (about 1 small head)
1 to 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
Simmer lentils, water, broth, bay leaf, and half of garlic in a 4-quart pot, uncovered, 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a wide heavy 5- to 6-quart pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Brown sausage, about 7 minutes. Transfer sausage with a slotted spoon to a bowl.
Reduce heat to medium and cook onion, carrots, celery, remaining garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add sausage and lentils with cooking liquid and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
Stir in escarole and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in vinegar to taste and season with salt and pepper. Discard bay leaf.
Herb Drop Biscuits
from Everyday Food
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, fresh chives, baking powder, and salt. Using a fork or your fingers, work in butter (cut into small pieces) until small pea-size clumps form. Mix in milk until the mixture comes together as a sticky dough.
Using a 1/3-cup measure, drop 8 mounds of dough onto a nonstick baking sheet; pat down slightly.
Bake until biscuits are golden brown, rotating baking sheet halfway through, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
More Escarole Recipes:
Salmon with Escarole and Lemon