Escarole & Beans: Southern Italy’s Favorite Peasant Food

Let me preface by saying that I have a love/hate relationship with escarole.

It is one of my favorite vegetables, yes. But boy do I hate prepping it! You see, let’s just get real, escarole is sandy and dirty. Yup, unlike some other veggies that take little or no time to prep and rinse clean, I mentally have to prepare myself when I’m about to cook escarole. It requires time to chop it and clean it properly, washing it upwards of 4 times in cold water before I feel it’s perfectly clean and sand-free to start cooking it. I don’t know how they do it on some TV shows! The chop it and add it straight to the pan! I get that *hopefully* it’s been washed before, but still, they should warn the audience that it requires proper cleaning before using it. 

Below is a step by step guide on how to clean it and cook it with beans, everyone’s favorite way of cooking it, that and in Italian wedding soup, but that’s another post. 😉 

Here we have two escarole heads that are on the smaller side. Thankfully! Sometimes I find them when they’re huge, requiring even more prepping and washing! 
Remove the outer leaves. Escarole tends to wilt quickly, so use it within a day or two of purchasing it. I had mine in the fridge for 4 days, so it required trashing the outer wilted leaves. Cut the lower end piece, but just cut a very thin layer. I have seen folks chop upwards of a quarter from the bottom. Don’t do this, there’s lots of flavor there and it’s just wasteful! 
Cut the escarole head in half and then cut that half in half again, so you will have 4 quarters per head. Then chop each quarter as you would romaine lettuce or other leafy green. I can’t say I’ve ever measured it, but I’d say it’s about 1 inch pieces. Continue with the rest of your escarole and add them to a large bowl. 
I really didn’t do a good job at taking pictures of the sand, but here you see sand on the leaves. It doesn’t look like much but it’s deceiving. 
Bring the escarole to the sink and just start washing the life out of it! For my first wash, I use tepid water. I find that it removes the dirt better than cold water. Let the water run and just wash it fully. When the bowl is filled with water, grab handfuls of the escarole and add them to a large strainer. You obviously don’t want to just dump them in there with the water to drain, as you would be adding all that dirty water back. 
Here’s the bowl of water after the first wash. The escarole has been removed and is now on the strainer. You can see how dirty the water is! Not very appealing! Rinse the bowl and add the escarole back a second time, repeat the washing steps of washing the escarole well, removing it and cleaning the bowl. I do this at least 3 times, sometimes 4, depending on how dirty the escarole is! 
This is after the 3rd wash. You can see it looks very clean and it’s looking a lot brighter. Aww, feeling satisfied, finally!
This is after the 3rd wash. You can see it looks very clean and it’s looking a lot brighter. Aww, feeling satisfied, finally!
Add the escarole to a soup pan and add just enough water to cover it by about one inch. You don’t need much more. Add salt to taste, at least 1 – 2 teaspoons. As it starts to boil, press it down with a wooden spoon and boil it for about 10 minutes. 
Once it’s cooked to your liking (some like it more tender than others), drain it in a strainer and use it as you wish. At this point, you can add it to soups, stir fry it with EVOO and garlic, plate it as a side with a drizzle of EVOO, add it to frittatas, top it with freshly grated parmigiano cheese and breadcrumbs for some crunch, make it with beans, or use in any other way. 

Below are the steps for making it with beans. A classic dish beloved by all southern Italians. Every household has its own way of making this dish. Some boil both the escarole and beans together, but I find that just breakdown the beans far too much. Some skip the boiling step of the escarole all together and just cook it with the beans in EVOO. For me, that keeps the greens far too undercooked. I find that by at least par boiling the escarole first, then just cooking it a bit with the beans with plenty of oil is the most flavorful way. And that’s how my mama makes it, and you never want to question an Italian mama! 😉 

Add the cannellini beans and escarole to a large and roomy skillet. You don’t want to overcrowd the pan.
Mix gently over medium heat. Use to spoons to mix. Be gently as you don’t want to crush the beans, which are soft and tender.
The escarole and beans will cook in the EVOO and as they cook, the beans get creamy, as you can see from the border of the pan. I used a different brand of means that cooked far too quickly. Next time, I’ll stick to my usual brands: Progresso or Yoga. This brand was not my fave.
Plate and serve hot!

Escarole & Beans
2 large heads of escarole, cleaned and boiled as detailed above
2 15-oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and trained
2 large garlic cloves, cut in large pieces for removal before serving
3 – 4 tablespoons olive oil (approx) 
Salt to taste

1. In a large skillet, add all of the above ingredients and bring them to simmer over medium heat.
​2.  Gently mix the ingredients, allow them to cook together so they gain flavor for about 5 – 7 minutes. If it’s drying too quickly, add additional oil. 
3. Remove from heat and plate. Serve with crusty Italian bread. 

*See above captions for added tips. 

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What to Pack for Italy

Cosa Mettere in Valigia per l'Italia

Everyone is always asking me what they should pack for Italy,
so I’ve created a quick reference guide that you can use for your next trip.

Hint: You don’t need nearly as much as you think you do!

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