Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Season NW: Creamed Escarole

For some people, the solution to an attack of the doldrums is a trip to an exotic locale to see new sights, smell new smells, hear new sounds. For others, shaking out the cobwebs involves clearing the house of clutter, joining a gym or buying a new wardrobe. Me, I'm a little less dramatic…less shopping my way to happiness or, heaven forfend, facing the demons that have accumulated in my basement, and more taking on a new food challenge.

Cichorium endivia var latifolia, aka escarole.

A few years back the task I assigned myself was learning to cook large hunks of meat, a reaction to both my mother's tendency to turn protein into shoe leather as well as a bad vegetarian patch in my 20s (think clumpy brown rice and you'll get it). That was followed by conquering my fear of leafy greens more complicated than lettuce (once again, upbringing and the 70s play a part here).

Now I'm focused on those foods derisively lumped into the dreary category of "winter vegetables," the sodden, muddy group that is the staple of Grimm brothers soup pots and the bane of seasonal eaters. But I'm bound and determined to find the sunshine in these maligned characters, starting with an easy one, a winter green called escarole.

A member of the endive clan and related to chicories, cichorium endivia var. latifolia looks like a big, hearty head of lettuce rather than the pale bullet shape of its cousin. It's also slightly less bitter than endive and is good in salads—I paired it with some radicchio I'd soaked for an hour or so to leach out some of the bitterness, then tossed it with a hearty Caesar dressing.

It's also hefty enough to use in cooking, though it gets a little mushy and grey in a long-simmered soup. Better to simmer it until just wilted, then serve immediately to preserve its vibrant color and crunchy texture. I'd been experimenting with creamed greens after having some divinely comforting creamed kale at Ned Ludd, and the escarole worked really well with a brief sauté with onions, garlic, bacon and a stir of sour cream.

And dreary? Not according to the licked-clean bowls were cleared from our dinner table!

Creamed Escarole

1/4 lb. bacon slices, cut into 1/4" strips
1/2 onion, diced finely
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large head escarole, roughly chopped, about 7 c. or so
4-8 oz. sour cream
1/4 tsp. Worchestershire sauce (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté bacon in deep skillet until fat is rendered. Add onions and garlic and sauté till tender. Add chopped escarole and quickly sauté till just wilted. Add sour cream and stir to combine along with Worchestershire if desired. Adjust salt to taste and serve.

This also works with kale if escarole isn't available. I've served it as an entrée with puréed squash, polenta and roasted delicata and it's garnered raveds, but rice would be fine, too. It would make a nice side dish on its own with grilled or roasted meat.

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