There was a huge bag of escarole in my box this week, but I wasn’t exactly sure which bag it was. Last time there was an unusual item, there was a note in the newsletter to help us all figure out which thing was which. It’s new to me, but maybe escarole is more prosaic than I realized, because this time there was no hint. I did take a test nibble of raw leaves to check which of the greens was most bitter, but I still consulted a Google image search just to make sure I wasn’t about to cook up a big bag of lettuce, which, in contrast to every other bitter green I’ve cooked, is exactly what escarole looks like. (And oh, how the lettuce still plagues me. What will I do with it all?)
Photo from Potomac Vegetable Farms
(See how much I look like lettuce?)
So, after consulting my field guide, I finally felt confident enough to cook up the escarole. I love bitter greens, so I was really looking forward to my escarole, but with no expectation of how it might taste once cooked. I sauteed it with my radish greens in olive oil and then sat down to put the first bite in my mouth.
Oh. My. God. It tastes. Like. Italy.
Apparently, according to my taste buds and the nostalgic, eye-rolling ecstasy that was immediately induced, I ate a lot of escarole when my mom and I were eating our way across Venice a few years ago. There, during a miserably rainy March, I ate mountains of radicchio and every other bitter leaf I could get my hands on, reveling in this, my favorite flavor, generally ignored here in the states or reduced to a pathetic accent note that does nothing to satisfy my cravings. I’d either forgotten or had never realized that a lot of what I was eating – in pasta, on pizzas, or alone on heaping platters as a contorni – was in fact escarole. Until I magically cooked it, on this magic night, in this magic, stumbled-upon fashion, and managed to recreate perfectly Venice in my mouth. (It didn’t hurt that I coincidentally made porcini mushroom risotto last night as well, using my final onion and the last of the dried porcinis I brought back from Venice.)
Here, preserved for posterity, is how I prepared the escarole and radish greens:
“Venice in Your Mouth” Escarole
1 large bag escarole, washed thoroughly and chopped into 1 1/2 inch strips
2 or 3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. Earth Balance (or butter)
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
A sprinkle of red pepper flakes
1 t. sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
Heat oil and butter together in a wok over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic begins to brown. Pile on the greens, tossing and stirring until they begin to deflate. Sprinkle the sugar, salt, and pepper. Continue to cook, tossing and stirring as needed, until the greens are cooked through. (20 minutes? I did it by feel, so I’m not sure…)
Incidentally, I don’t think I’ll be cooking radish greens again. Perhaps I didn’t cook them long enough, but they still had that prickly texture that so frightened me in the raw turnip greens. Not pleasant on the tongue! Above and beyond that, I had an allergic reaction to something in this meal, and, since I’ve eaten all the other parts of it many times, instinct tells me the radish greens are the culprit behind the rampant itchiness. Too bad, I was really digging the no-waste principal of it all, but I guess next time they will just have to spice up my compost bucket.