Or perhaps that should read: "a head."
One of my resolutions for the new year is to eat more vegetables, especially greens. Hardy leaves like chard, kale, and mustard greens are all well and good, but I've been going steady with escarole as of late.
I think I'm in love.
If you're wondering why on earth I have a photo of a smiling, gap-toothed 1970's sitcom star thrown up here, you are entirely too young for me to be talking to you.
It's Esther Rolle, of course-- the actress who gained fame as Florida Evans, the no-nonsense maid/foil to Bea Arthur's Maude and was soon rewarded with her own show, Good Times. The sad fact of the matter is that I have never been able to think of escarole without seeing her face, thanks to my own selective hearing and memory-aiding word associations.
It's not so surprising, really, given the fact that she starred as a mother struggling to make a good life for her three children: a goofy elder son with a strong creative bent, a daughter who spouts forth episode-related data, and a youngest child named Michael who was, well, just adorable. It was my family, but black and urban.
Perhaps one of my other resolutions should be to stop wandering off on tangents.
Back to Escarole.
Escarole, for those of you unaware, belongs to the Asteraceae family and is, therefore, closely related to asters and daisies, which naturally reminds me of another popular sitcom, which I promise not to go into today. It is less bitter than its cousins radicchio and chicory (née frisée), depending upon which part of the head you eat-- the outer leaves develop the bitter edge of its endive forebearers as they turn green, while the inner, paler leaves are mild and tender.
Escarole is high in fiber, folic acid, vitamin A and Vitamin K, making its consumption ideal for pregnant women with poor night vision, recessive hemophilia genes, and gastro-intestinal issues.
It's a wonderfully versatile green, equally serviceable eaten cold and torn to pieces in a salad, or served warm, nearly any way you like.
One good, hearty, and surprisingly easy way to serve up escarole in the cold months is braised. Here's just one example. One I made for lunch the other day in, oh, about 15 minutes:
Braised Escarole with Soppressata
This is a recipe heavily borrowed from Andrew Carmellini over at Food & Wine, but streamlined. It is, like I said, a relatively quick dish to make. Its southern Italian roots are made obvious by the use of ingredients such as bread crumbs and soppressata. It will feed one person as a full, one-dish meal, or service four people as a side dish, depending upon one's current level of popularity.
3 tablespoons olive oil, extra-virgin
2 1/4-inch-thick slices of soppressata (any salami will do, really)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 heads of escarole, dark outer leaves removed (about one pound), coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons (or more, depending upon how cheesy you like things) grated Parmesan
In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add soppressata, and cook over high heat for about two minutes. Add pepper flakes and garlic and cook, stirring contantly, until garlic is golden and all perfumy and stuff. Add escarole (which you have washed, hopefully) , one handful at a time, turning with a wooden spoon or tongs to coat with the olive oil andgarlicky meat secretions. Season with salt and pepper, if desired (the salami and Parmesan are, of course, salty, so do what you will). Cover, turning the leaves occasionally, and cook over a lowish-to-medium flame, about 10 minutes.
As the escarole is cooking, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and stir over a moderate heat until golden and the breadcrumbs smell, well, toasty.
Place the braised escarole in the serving dish of your choosing, top with breadcrumbs and sprinkle with parmesan, which I know isn't southern Italian, but I am willing to overlook it, if you are.
Serve, eat, and let the good times roll. Or Rolle, depending.