Escarole in Italian Cuisine

Escarole is a nutritious leafy green vegetable from the chicory family that holds a cherished place in Italian cuisine.

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Recognized for its slightly bitter flavor and versatility, it is as much a staple in traditional Italian dishes as it is a canvas for culinary innovation.

You’ll often find escarole used in soups, sautéed as a side dish, and even featured in hearty stews, demonstrating its ability to retain a pleasant texture and richness of flavor even when cooked.

A bunch of fresh escarole leaves being washed and chopped on a wooden cutting board

Beyond its culinary uses, escarole is valued for its health benefits.

Rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, it contributes to a balanced diet and is a great ingredient to include in your meals if you’re looking to enhance nutritional intake.

In Italian cooking, the balance of health and flavor is paramount, and escarole exemplifies this harmony perfectly.

Incorporated into Italian dishes for generations, escarole has stood the test of time, reflecting the enduring ingenuity of Italian cooks who can create both simple and complex flavors with this leafy green.

Whether it’s being simmered in a brodo for a comforting escarole and bean soup or sautéed with garlic and olive oil for a classic contorno (side dish), your experience with escarole will provide a delicious insight into its integral role within Italian food culture.

Escarole in Italian Culinary History

A rustic Italian kitchen with a wooden table adorned with fresh escarole, garlic, and olive oil. A pot simmers on the stove, filling the air with the aroma of traditional Italian cuisine

Escarole has been a staple in Italian cooking, enriching traditional dishes with its unique bitter flavor. Recognized for its versatility, this leafy green is essential to the gastronomic narrative of Italy.

Escarole’s Role in Traditional Italian Dishes

Escarole, a member of the chicory family, is pivotal in a range of traditional Italian recipes.

You’ll find it as a star in soups such as Minestra di Scarola, a classic winter comfort food warming many households.

It’s also used raw, in salads like the famed Italian Insalata di Scarola.

Culinary Influence of the Chicory Family

The chicory family, to which escarole belongs, is notable for its influence on Italian cuisine.

With its slightly bitter taste, escarole adds complexity to dishes. It’s often paired with ingredients like anchovies, olives, and capers that complement its robustness, enhancing the overall dining experience.

  • Flavor Pairings:
    • Anchovies
    • Olives
    • Capers

Regional Variations of Escarole Preparation

Your culinary journey across Italy will reveal that escarole is not limited to a single form of preparation.

In Naples, it is sautéed with garlic, olives, and anchovies for the renowned Scarola alla Napoletana.

Whereas in regions of northern Italy, you may encounter it braised and served as a warm side dish.

  • Neapolitan Style: Scarola alla Napoletana
  • Northern Italian Style: Braised Escarole

Preparing Escarole

Preparing escarole involves several techniques aimed at optimizing its texture and flavor.

You’ll need to clean it properly, blanch or sauté it as desired, and you can even braise or grill it for a more robust dish.

Cleaning and Handling

To ensure your escarole is dirt-free, start by separating the leaves from the head.

Rinse each leaf under cold water to remove any dirt or debris.

After rinsing, gently shake off the excess water and pat the leaves dry with a clean kitchen towel.

Escarole’s broad leaves can hide grit, so be thorough.

Blanching Techniques

Blanching escarole helps to maintain its vibrant color and reduce bitterness.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Submerge the escarole leaves using a slotted spoon and let them blanch for about 2-3 minutes.

Once done, quickly transfer them to an ice water bath to halt the cooking process.

This technique ensures your escarole retains a firm texture.

Sauteing Escarole

For sauteed escarole, begin by heating olive oil in a pan over medium heat.

Add the blanched, squeezed-dry leaves and sauté with garlic until the leaves wilt and become fragrant.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, and sauté for a few minutes until the escarole is tender.

This method brings out a slightly sweet flavor from the escarole.

Braising and Grilling Escarole

Braising escarole starts with sautéing it as described.

Then, add a small amount of broth or water, cover the pan, and let it simmer until fully tender.

This cooks the escarole through, making it soft and flavorful.

Alternatively, you can grill escarole.

Cut the heads into quarters and brush with olive oil.

Grill on medium-high heat until charred on the edges.

This method imparts a smoky taste that pairs well with robust ingredients.

Escarole in Soups and Stews

Escarole, a leafy green vegetable, enriches soups and stews with its pleasantly bitter flavor and becomes tender when simmered in a rich broth.

Classic Escarole Soup Recipes

Your exploration of escarole in Italian cuisine is incomplete without the classic Zuppa di Scarola e Fagioli.

To prepare this traditional escarole soup, you’ll start with a base of olive oil, garlic, and sometimes sausage, browning them to unlock their aromas.

Adding roughly chopped escarole to the mix and letting it wilt ensures the perfect texture. A simple seasoning with salt brings out the flavors.

Pour in chicken broth or vegetable stock as the liquid foundation and let the soup simmer until the escarole is fully tender.

For a heartier meal, cannellini beans are added, providing a creamy contrast to the greens.

Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese for an extra touch of umami.

  • Ingredients:
    • Olive oil
    • Garlic cloves (minced)
    • Escarole (roughly chopped)
    • Salt
    • Chicken or vegetable stock
    • Cannellini beans (optional)
    • Parmesan cheese (grated)
  • Directions:
    1. Sauté garlic in olive oil until fragrant.
    2. Add escarole and cook until it wilts.
    3. Season with salt.
    4. Combine with stock and simmer.
    5. Add beans if desired and cook until tender.
    6. Finish with Parmesan cheese.

Innovative Stews with Escarole

Transform your stews with the addition of escarole, bringing a new dimension to your wintertime comforts.

When you incorporate escarole into stews, its robust leaves can withstand longer cooking times and absorb the flavors of the dish.

You can innovate by tossing escarole into stews featuring a variety of proteins—from beef to chicken—and flavoring them with seasonal vegetables and aromatic herbs.

Remember to add the escarole towards the end of the cooking process to preserve its color and slightly crisp texture.

  • Tip: Balance the bitterness of escarole with acidic elements like lemon juice or a splash of white wine.
  • Serving Suggestion: Pair with a crusty bread to mop up the savory broth.

Escarole as a Salad Ingredient

Fresh escarole leaves arranged in a bowl with colorful salad ingredients. Vibrant colors and textures create an appetizing display

Escarole lends a pleasantly bitter note to salads, balancing richness and adding freshness.

It can be used as a foundational green or as an accent in various salad compositions.

Raw Escarole in Salads

To incorporate raw escarole effectively into your salads, start by selecting the inner leaves, which are paler and have a milder flavor compared to the outer, darker leaves.

Ensure you wash the leaves thoroughly in water and dry them, ideally using a salad spinner for best results.

Once dry, tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces that will blend easily with other ingredients.

  • Steps to prepare escarole for a raw salad:
    1. Choose the inner, lighter-colored leaves.
    2. Wash thoroughly and dry using a salad spinner.
    3. Tear into bite-sized pieces.

Dressing and Flavor Pairings

Dress escarole salads simply to allow the unique flavor of the greens to be the star. A classic combination includes olive oil and lemon juice for an easy vinaigrette that complements the greens’ bitterness.

The zesty and bright notes of the lemon enhance the escarole while olive oil smooths out its sharp edges.

For a more robust salad, consider incorporating pecorino romano cheese or parmesan cheese, both of which introduce a salty and umami counterpoint to the bitterness of escarole.

Additionally, introduce fresh parsley for an herbal brightness that enriches the overall profile of the salad.

  • Suggested dressing and toppings:
    • Olive Oil + Lemon Juice: Simple and enhances escarole’s flavor.
    • Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Cheese: Adds saltiness and depth.
    • Fresh Parsley: Provides a clean, herbal lift.

When constructing your salad, combine these ingredients with a practiced balance, tasting as you go, and adjust the quantities to your preference.

The result should be a well-rounded dish that satisfies with contrasting textures and flavors.

Integrating Escarole with Other Italian Staples

Escarole tossed with garlic, olive oil, and white beans in a rustic Italian kitchen

Escarole is a versatile green that can enrich various Italian staples with its slight bitterness and robust texture. Here’s how you can incorporate it into your Italian cooking repertoire, enhancing the flavors and nutritional content.

Escarole in Pasta Dishes

When you’re making a pasta dish, add a twist by incorporating escarole.

For a classic white bean pasta, sauté escarole in olive oil with garlic until wilted. Then, mix it with creamy white beans and serve it over your choice of pasta, like penne, cooked to al dente perfection.

Ensure to reserve some pasta water to help emulsify and create a silky sauce that clings to the pasta and greens.

Escarole on Pizza

Take your pizza to the next level by adding escarole as a topping.

Precook the escarole in a pan with a bit of olive oil and garlic for added flavor before spreading it over your pizza base.

Pair it with mozzarella and a sprinkle of chili flakes for a balance of flavors.

The hearty texture of escarole holds up well in the hot oven, providing a delightful contrast to the gooey cheese and a crisp crust.

Escarole in Italian Sandwiches

Boost your homemade Italian bread sandwiches with layers of sautéed escarole.

The green’s robustness complements the soft, flavorful bread, adding a nutritious element to your sandwich.

Pair escarole with traditional Italian sandwich fillings like prosciutto or salami for a satisfying and balanced meal that is both simple to make and delicious to eat.

Cooking with Escarole: Flavors and Combinations

Escarole, a leafy green vegetable with a slight bitterness, is a staple in Italian cuisine known for its ability to marry well with a diverse range of flavors. Its versatility allows it to create harmonious combinations with various proteins, vegetables, and seasonings.

Pairing Escarole with Proteins

  • Seafood: Escarole pairs exceptionally well with the briny flavors of seafood. Anchovies, a traditional Italian ingredient, can be melted into olive oil to form the base of a flavorful sauté.
  • Meat: Incorporate proteins like sausage or pancetta to add depth to your escarole dishes. Their richness complements the green’s bitterness and provides a hearty, satisfying element.

Vegetables and Legumes that Complement Escarole

  • Beans: Combining escarole with cannellini beans not only enhances the dish’s texture but also adds a creamy contrast to the escarole’s crispness.
  • Aromatic Vegetables: Sautéing escarole with garlic and onion amplifies the green’s natural flavors. For a different taste profile, you may opt to include celery for its subtle, earthy notes.

Herbs and Spices for Escarole Dishes

  • Capers: These small, salty gems introduce a pop of flavor, perfect for balancing the bitterness of escarole.
  • Garlic: By adding minced garlic, you infuse your dish with a robust, pungent aroma and deepen the vegetable’s flavor profile.

Escarole’s Nutritional Profile

A vibrant bunch of escarole leaves surrounded by traditional Italian ingredients like garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese

Escarole is a leafy green vegetable that offers you significant nutritional value with minimal calories. It stands out for its high fiber content and aiding in micronutrient intake.

Health Benefits of Escarole

Escarole is low in fat and rich in fiber, with 2 raw cups (85 grams) providing you with 12% of the daily value (DV) for fiber. This intake supports your digestive health, promoting regular bowel movements and benefiting the beneficial bacteria in your digestive system.

It’s also an excellent source of micronutrients; the same serving size offers a range of vitamins and minerals that are essential for your overall well-being.

Comparative Analysis with Other Leafy Greens

When compared to kale, spinach, and swiss chard, escarole holds its own as a nutritious option with a unique flavor profile. In the form of a table, here is a comparative breakdown:

NutrientEscaroleKaleSpinachSwiss Chard
CaloriesLowLowLowLow
FatNoneLowLowLow
ProteinModerateHighModerateHigh
FiberHighHighMediumHigh
VitaminsAmpleAmpleAmpleAmple
MineralsRichRichRichRich

While all these greens are nutritious, escarole provides you with a generous fiber content and a balance of vitamins and minerals.

It has a distinct place in your diet, particularly within the diversity of Italian cuisine, where it complements savory dishes without adding excess calories or fat.

Special Considerations in Escarole Preparation

Escarole being washed and chopped, then blanched in boiling water

When incorporating escarole into your Italian dishes, it’s important to consider dietary needs, proper storage, and how to solve common cooking issues.

Paying attention to these factors ensures that the lush green qualities of escarole are preserved, and that it contributes a balanced taste and texture to your meals.

Escarole for Dietary Restrictions

If you’re preparing escarole for someone with dietary restrictions, you’ll want to make sure your dish remains inclusive:

  • Vegan: Avoid using anchovies or traditional cheeses. Opt for nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan as flavor enhancers instead.
  • Low-sugar Diet: Escarole is naturally low in sugar, making it an excellent choice. Simply skip any added sugars in recipes.

Sautéing for Flavor:

  • Use extra virgin olive oil for sautéing the escarole with some minced garlic to add depth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • For a bit of heat, sprinkle in some red pepper flakes or a dash of cayenne pepper.

Preserving and Storing Escarole

Proper storage extends the shelf life of escarole and maintains its quality:

  • Refrigerate: Keep unwashed escarole in the crisper drawer, loosely wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored inside a plastic bag. It should last up to a week.
  • Freeze: Blanch your escarole for a few minutes, then ‘shock’ it in ice water. Dry thoroughly before freezing to prevent ice crystals and texture loss. Use within 6 months for the best quality.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Here are solutions to ensure your escarole is always at its best in your dishes:

  • Blemished Leaves: Remove any outer leaves that are damaged or wilted. Only use the crisp, healthy-looking leaves.
  • Texture: If your escarole becomes too soggy, make sure it’s well-drained after washing. For a golden and crisp touch, sauté it quickly over high heat.
  • Flavor Balance: Should your dish taste too bitter, a pinch of sugar can balance the flavors. Conversely, if it’s too mild, additional garlic or spices can enhance the taste.

Creative Ways to Enjoy Escarole

Escarole, with its slightly bitter flavor, adapts well to a variety of dishes beyond the traditional soup. Explore its versatility in appetizers, desserts, and main courses.

Escarole in Appetizers and Sides

For a refreshing start to your meal, consider escarole as part of an antipasti.

Its crisp texture makes it a great addition to salads, or it can be sautéed with garlic and olive oil for a classic Italian side dish.

To elevate this green further, try pairing escarole with beans in a hearty ‘Greens and Beans’ dish.

This staple in Italian cuisine combines the leafy green with white beans, garlic, and sometimes a touch of chili for heat.

  • Sautéed Escarole: Garlic, olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper can transform escarole into a dynamic side dish.
  • Greens and Beans: Combine escarole with cannellini beans, garlic, and olive oil for a comforting side.

Dessert Recipes Featuring Escarole

Though not traditionally used in desserts, the versatility of escarole can allow for creative sweet dishes.

Imagine escarole subtly incorporated into a sweet polenta dish, harmonizing with raisins for a unique fusion of flavors.

  • Innovative Sweet Polenta: Fold finely chopped escarole into sweet polenta and mix with raisins and a hint of cinnamon.

Innovative Escarole Entrees

Escarole can be the star of the entree through dishes like escarole and white bean soup or as a complement to proteins in a mixed dish.

Its robust structure holds up well when cooked, so it’s perfect for hearty meals.

  • Escarole and White Bean Soup: A savory blend of escarole, white beans, and vegetable broth makes for a substantial and nutritious main course.
  • Escarole with Pine Nuts and Raisins: Elevate your main dish by adding sautéed escarole with a sprinkle of pine nuts and raisins to bring in a blend of textures and flavors.

Frequently Asked Questions

A bowl of escarole sits on a rustic wooden table, surrounded by fresh herbs and garlic. A chef's knife and cutting board are nearby

In this section, you will find concise answers to common queries about the use of escarole in Italian cuisine, from typical dishes to preparation methods.

What dishes commonly feature escarole in Italian cuisine?

Escarole is a staple in many Italian dishes. It’s often used in rustic soups, such as Zuppa di Scarola, and is a key ingredient in wedding soup.

You might also find it sautéed with garlic as a side dish or mixed into pasta dishes for an added nutritional boost.

What are some traditional methods for preparing escarole in Italy?

Traditionally, Italians prepare escarole by sautéeing it with garlic and olive oil. It may also be boiled or steamed prior to being combined with other ingredients.

Adding it to soups is another common method, where it is simmered with broth and other seasonings.

Can you provide recipes that highlight escarole in Italian cooking?

While specific recipes are not included here, escarole is a versatile green that pairs wonderfully with garlic, raisins, pine nuts, and olive oil in a sautéed dish.

In soups, it’s often included alongside beans, Italian sausage, and a parmesan or pecorino cheese rind for a rich flavor profile.

How is escarole typically incorporated into Italian soups?

In Italian soups, escarole is usually cut into strips and simmered until it wilts down and becomes tender.

It’s incorporated with ingredients such as sausage, beans, onions, garlic, and a base of chicken or vegetable stock for a hearty and warming dish.

Which parts of escarole are edible and commonly used in Italian dishes?

Both the leaves and the tender, inner parts of escarole are used in Italian cooking.

The outer leaves tend to be more bitter and are great for cooking, while the inner, lighter-colored leaves are milder and can be used both raw and cooked.

How does escarole differ from romaine in Italian culinary applications?

Escarole has broader, flatter leaves and is more bitter than romaine lettuce. In Italian cooking, escarole is favored for its robust flavor. It is often cooked to complement hearty dishes. Romaine is typically used fresh in salads for its crunch and mild taste.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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