3 Reasons to Drop That Lettuce and Meet Escarole

published Jun 16, 2015
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Lettuce is lovely, don’t get me wrong — it’s a tender and sweet bare canvas, ready to accept any other ingredients. But escarole, the leafy green chicory, comes with a pleasant bitter taste that makes it all the more interesting to eat. Paired with the right partners, it is out of this world. It comes in a range of sizes — from small softball-sized heads to much larger ones — just choose firmly packed heads with vibrant and unblemished leaves. The juicy, crunchy white middle ribs and heart, as well as the inner lighter green leaves, are bittersweet — the best parts for raw preparations. The outermost dark green leaves are bitter and chewy; reserve them for cooking.

Here are the top three things you must know about escarole to get some of its good bitterness in your life.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

1. Escarole is versatile.

You can enjoy it raw or cook with it; braise, grill, or sauté escarole. Tear it into pieces and add to soups, such as minestrone or a white bean stew. Dress raw leaves with a garlicky vinaigrette or pair leaves with a creamy dip. Remember, the inner leaves are best for raw preparations and the outer leaves are best reserved for cooking.

2. Many ingredients pair beautifully with escarole.

At first taste, escarole doesn’t seem as compliant as lettuce, but there are lots of ingredients that pair beautifully with escarole.

Try escarole with a combination of any of the following partners and you can’t go wrong: almonds, apples, arugula, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, beets, blue cheeses, butter, butternut squash, cannellini beans, cream, celery root, currants, fennel, feta, fontina cheese, garlic, goat cheese, Gruyere, hazelnuts, hazelnut oil, honey, lemon, Manchego cheese, olive oil, onion, orange, oregano, Parmesan cheese, pasta, pears, pecans, persimmons, pine nuts, potatoes, radicchio, raisins, red pepper flakes, rice, shallots, stone fruits, strawberries, sunchokes, thyme, walnuts, walnut oil, wine vinegars (red and white).

3. Raw escarole loves fruit.

Apples, pears, and persimmons are exceptional complements, but citrus and stone fruits work too. You can compose an escarole and fruit salad any which way, but here’s my favorite version. You can (and should) mix it up with your favorite vinaigrette, nuts, and fruit. Add cheese, too, if you wish. Also try warming the vinaigrette.

How to Make an Escarole and Fruit Salad

In a large bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon white or red wine vinegar, 2 garlic cloves (peeled and smashed), and a generous pinch of salt and pepper; let marinate briefly. Whisk in 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil (or walnut oil), and 2 tablespoons olive oil. (Add minced shallots if you wish.) Add more salt and pepper to taste. Remove the garlic cloves. Toss torn escarole leaves with the vinaigrette, sliced apples, persimmons, or pears, and toasted hazelnuts (or toasted walnuts or almonds). Top with crumbled Gorgonzola or Roquefort (or Manchego cheese).

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)