Mild, juicy escarole belies ‘bitter green’ reputation

When stocking groceries for several weeks is the goal, pick produce that stands the test of time.

Escarole is a lettuce alternative that translates to soups and sautes just as easily as it composes salads. Anticipating using it both cooked and raw, I like to separate and segregate the tougher, outer leaves from the tender, inner ones.

Although dubbed a “bitter green,” escarole is mild, unlike such chicory-family relatives as radicchio, featured in this blog’s previous post. Escarole’s vibrant, juicy leaves made such an impression on friends, when I had to supply a last-minute salad at their potluck, that they inquired where they could find it and, apart from salad, how they could use it.

Thinly sliced escarole leaves are an essential ingredient in Italian wedding soup, with some cooked sausage and rice, orzo or white beans. A similar flavor profile is highlighted in a salad recipe posted to this blog a couple of winters back.

Try sautéed escarole in this quick pasta dish, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, another pantry-staple wonder that comes together quickly on a busy weeknight. Bacon could be substituted for the pancetta.

Tribune News Service photo

Penne Pasta With Wilted Escarole

Cut 6 ounces pancetta into 1/4-inch cubes. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook pancetta until fat is rendered. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, if needed.

Add 2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced in half-moons; season with salt. Cook, stirring, until completely soft, for 12 minutes.

Add 2 peeled and minced garlic cloves; cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle with crushed red-pepper flakes to taste. Stir in leaves from 1 head leafy escarole, sliced into wide ribbons; cover. Allow to wilt briefly.

Serve tossed with 1 pound cooked penne, sprinkled with grated pecorino Romano cheese. Makes 4 servings.

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