A member of the chicory family, escarole is believed to be native to the East Indies, and as used as a vegetable as early as ancient Egypt. Widely cultivated in both Italy and England from at least the 1500s, escarole was brought to America by European colonists. Escarole’s dark green outer leaves are typically quite bitter, but lighten in color and flavor toward the inner heart.

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History

Escarole is believed to be native to Sicily. From a very early period it was used as a vegetable by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, then spread to the British Isles in the 1500s and was brought to North America by English colonists.

Nutrition

Escarole is rich in many minerals and vitamins, especially folate. It’s also a good source of B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, C, and K.

Storage

Wrap escarole head in a dampened paper towel and store in an unsealed plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for up to 4 days.

Preparation

Escarole greens can be used raw in salads or cooked like other bitter greens. It pairs well with strong, salty flavors such as capers, anchovies, and cured meats and fish. A traditional escarole preparation is the Italian New Year’s Day soup known as straciatella, which combines escarole leaves and a beaten egg swirled into hot chicken broth. It is also delicious when braised slowly and served with stewed beans, pesto or meatballs.

Cooking

Blanch whole escarole leaves in salted boiling water for 2 minutes, then remove and plunge into an ice bath to stop cooking. Let drain and cool, then add a mixture of sauteed black olives, capers, pine nuts and raisins to the base of each leaf. Sprinkle olive mixture toasted bread crumbs and crumbled Parmesan cheese, then roll leaves like a burrito from the base to the tip. Arrange rolled escarole leaves in a baking pan, sprinkle with more bread crumbs and cheese, cover pan with foil, and bake at 375 degrees until toppings are golden brown.

Pro Tips

If escarole is too bitter for your taste, a little sweetener (such as honey or dried fruit) added to your recipe will help balance the flavor.

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