The inspiration for this comes from an authentic regional Italian dish featured in the Bocca Cookbook (Bocca is a hip Italian restaurant in London). The original instructions called for stuffing a head of escarole with garlic, raisins and anchovies, trussing the leaves together with kitchen twine and braising the veggie package in liquid.
Our version is ultra-quick by comparison. The greens are cut into pieces and everything is thrown in the pan together, without any fussy lacing. We’ve omitted the anchovies (toss in a few if you like them) and added olives instead. We call for a mix of currants and golden raisins, since that’s what our pantry offered us, but you could easily substitute what you have on hand—even chopped prunes would be nice.
Braising involves first browning ingredients in a hot pan to create wonderful caramelized bits; adding liquid; then simmering it off, to create an ultra-soft product, infused with flavor. Cooking the bitter greens, garlic, dried fruit and pine nuts together results in a slightly sweet sauce that elevates this dish from the everyday. It’s ready for a special occasion, though simple enough to patch together on the fly.
Serves 4 as a side dish
- One head escarole
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced in half-rounds
- 3 plump garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons dried currants
- 2 tablespoons golden raisins
- 4 – 5 kalamata olives, torn into pieces
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- Rinse the escarole leaves well under water, separating the leaves from the stem and looking for dirt that may be lodged near the stem. Cut leaves crosswise into thirds. Do not dry the leaves.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add red pepper and onion and cook until onion is soft and begins to brown. Add garlic, currants and raisins and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add escarole. Turn leaves frequently as the bottom layer of greens wilts in the pan, allowing the top layer a chance to cook in contact with the pan surface as well. After greens have completely wilted, leave them alone for awhile without disturbing, so they can brown a bit. Continue to cook for a few minutes until leaves have browned in many spots. Add olives and 3/4 cup water. Braise for 15 minutes until liquid has reduced to a thick consistency and vegetables have turned a light caramel-brown color.
- Meanwhile, toast pine nuts in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat. Shake the pan frequently to turn nuts as they brown. Allow them to become a golden brown color before turning off the heat. Add pine nuts to the larger skillet with the greens, plus salt to taste, and continue cooking until greens are done, as according to step 2.