What Is Escarole and How Can I Use It?
Escarole is a leafy green vegetable that's an integral part of Italian dishes like pasta e fagioli and Italian Wedding Soup. You've probably seen escarole in the produce aisle and may not have noticed it, as it can easily blend in with lettuces like green leaf or romaine. Its hearty texture makes it great for cooking, but it can also be enjoyed raw. Read on to find out how to use this versatile vegetable.
What Is Escarole?
Escarole is a leafy green that's part of the chicory family, which also includes radicchio and endive. It has broad, green leaves and, like the rest of the chicory family is considered a "bitter" green, although escarole tends to be less bitter than some of its relatives.
Pictured Recipe: Roasted Escarole with Almond Breadcrumbs
How to Use Escarole
Escarole doesn't require a lot of fuss. Pull off the leaves from the core and wash them to remove any dirt at the base of the stems. The inner leaves are lighter in color and more tender than the outer leaves, so they are perfect for use in salads. If you enjoy bitter greens, you may find that they are fine on their own. If you prefer to balance their slightly bitter flavor, mix them up with a milder lettuce (like romaine) so you get that pop of flavor without it overwhelming the dish. You can also keep the leaves whole and use them in place of lettuce for your favorite lettuce wrap recipe. (Find out: The Best Lettuces & Greens to Add to Your Salad Bowl)
The outer leaves are a darker green, less tender and a bit more bitter—these are great for cooking. For soups, try adding chopped or torn leaves toward the end of the cooking time. They will soak up the brothy goodness, maintain a toothsome texture and still have some of their signature bitter flavor which can easily be balanced by a splash of lemon juice or other acid. Escarole's heartiness makes it great for braising, roasting and sautéing too. It's great on its own as a side dish or as an accompaniment for braised meats and stews. The longer it cooks, the tenderer it becomes (it will not completely break down like more delicate lettuces do); plus, longer cooking times can help it lose some of its bitter edge.
Pictured Recipe: Warm Fava Bean & Escarole Salad (Scafata)
Escarole Nutrition Facts
A 2-cup serving of raw escarole offers a healthy dose of fiber, plus vitamin A, which plays an important role in bone growth, reproduction, immune function, hormone synthesis and and vision. Plus, the compounds that give some foods—like escarole—their bitter taste are the same ones that have been shown to help protect against diseases like cancer. (Are you getting the nutrients you need? Find out about the Essential Nutrients You Should Be Eating.)
Can't find escarole? There are a variety of greens out there that use can be used as a substitute. For salads, blends of arugula, curly endive and radicchio work well. For soups and stews, dandelion greens and young mustard greens will give you a similar flavor and also hold up well to cooking. You can also use hearty greens like chard or kale, just note that their flavor is less bitter and, depending on what you're making, you may have to cook them longer as they take more time to tenderize.