A leafy green-yellowish lettuce with a somewhat sturdy texture, bitter to the taste, escarole doesn’t sound like a pleasant vegetable but in combination with other foods it shines - I’ll add a little later to that. Escarole is in the same plant family as radicchio, and Belgian endive. Sometimes it is called broad-leafed friseé because of its curly resemblance.
I remember escarole from my mother’s cooking where she tossed it with farm-fresh potato salad with a light mustardy dressing. It’s an ideal salad to be combined with fall flavors such as pears, apples, nuts, blue cheese etc.
I’m intrigued by escarole and I romanticize it with visions of rustic Italian cooking like hearty stews, sausagey rosemary inflected dishes, tomato based Tuscan country cucina perhaps with basil aromas all accompanied with crusty Italian bread. This is the fantasy portrayed in an advertisement for a commercial tomato sauce and it’s the feeling that escarole evokes in me.
(freshly dug escarole)
Some Nutritious Info
Escarole is loaded with vitamin C the beloved antioxidant that helps to fight off cell damage and in fact repairs it. Other noteworthy vitamins in escarole are A and K. Also it’s high in fiber and will move things perfectly along in the digestive system.
Cooking with Escarole
This bean stew recipe is forgiving as not too much can go wrong with it and it is easy on the budget. The sausage adds a deep flavor character and spice. Combine the stew with just about any sausage, which is suitable for steaming - my favorite is an Italian style sausage with deep pork flavor and faint garlic aroma. I buy my sausage from an Austrian sausage master maker per mail order. The escarole with it’s faint bitterness creates the perfect flavor balance besides adding a welcoming vegetable crunchy texture.
(fresh Italian sausage from the local butcher)
Borlotti Bean Stew with Escarole
(recipe yields four portions)
2 cups Borlotti beans (a.k.a kidney beans)
1 small branch rosemary
1 head escarole
4 links Italian sausages
- Soak beans overnight or for six hours in water at room temperature.
- Pour beans into a colander then rinse with water for two minutes.
- In a gallon-sized pot combine beans, rosemary and four cups of water.
- Cook beans on medium heat setting covered with a tight fitting lid for 60 minutes.
- During the time the beans are cooking: Cut 1-inch of the bottom from escarole and cut leafs in 1-inch long pieces across. Fill a large bowl with water. Clean cut escarole leafs in the water then dry leaves in a salad spinner or on a kitchen paper towel.
- With a pointy knife puncture each sausage three times – this will release the natural sausage juices during cooking.
- Once the beans have cooked 60 minutes add the punctured sausage and cut escarole.
- Mixture for 20 minutes at this point beans are soft, the sausage is cooked throughout and escarole is soft.
Chef’s Note: The bean stew is best when it is allowed to sit for 20 minutes on the side of the stove and then served. Any leftover bean stew can be reheated the next day, which benefits the flavor wonderfully.