Sunday, January 26, 2003

Serve it this week: Escarole

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

History: Escarole is a member of the endive family, which includes Belgian endive and curly endive. Endive is a native of Egypt, which leads food historian Waverly Root to believe it was one of the "bitter herbs'' Jews were asked to eat during Passover. Escarole is also known as broad-leaved endive, batavian and scarole. This green is thick and solid, with firm, dark leaves and pale inner heart. The dark leaves are chewy and bitter; the pale leaves are succulent and lightly bittersweet.

Buy: Look for escarole with a fresh, crisp texture; avoid heads with discoloration or insect damage.

Store: Wrap in plastic and store in refrigerator for up to three days.

Prepare: Wash away sand and grit and remove any yellowed or discolored leaves. Tender escarole leaves can be added to balance sweeter greens in salads. Even tougher leaves turn juicy and mild when braised and simmered in soups.

Good for you: Compared with other greens, escarole and the rest of the endive family are higher in beta-carotine, calcium and iron. They are also good sources of potassium, vitamins C and A and dietary fiber.

Wilted Escarole

8 to 12 ounces dark green outer escarole leaves, limp and discolored spots removed (save inner, pale leaves for salad)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Zest of 1 lemon
Up to 1/4 cup water
Salt, to taste

Wash escarole in several baths of cold water to remove any grit. Tear leaves into 3-to 4-inch lengths. Drain well, but don't spin dry.

Place half the oil or butter, lemon zest, water and escarole in a 3-quart saute pan or 12-inch skillet. Sprinkle with salt. Cover and set over medium heat.

As soon as water begins to steam, uncover, and stir every 10 seconds or so until all the leaves are uniformly wilted and vibrant, glistening green. If water evaporates before leaves are cooked, add more water, a few drops at a time. Water should not boil. Repeat this process with remaining ingredients.

Serve wilted escarole promptly, spooning syrupy oil or butter that remains in the pan over the leaves. Makes 4 servings.

- The Zuni Cafe Cookbook (Norton; $35)

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