With so many leafy greens to choose from, what makes one better than another? What is special about the flavor of escarole that makes it borderline irreplaceable for classic Italian dishes like pasta e Fagioli and Italian wedding soup?
Escarole will never replace lettuce for lightness or kale for robust nutrition, but it shines especially in soups and stews and crosses culinary borders.
What is escarole taste? How can you prepare escarole? What are the best replacements?
In this article, we will look at what escarole is, and how to enjoy it.
What Is Italian Cuisine – Escarole?
Escarole is a leafy green that is popular both raw and cooked, especially in Italian cuisine. It is also called Bavarian endive, Batavian endive, and broad-leafed endive.
It has dark, broad, and curled leaves on the outside, and lighter, tender, and less bitter leaves on the inside.
It is more expensive than lettuce, chicory, or radicchio in most grocery stores because it is especially valued for dishes like Italian wedding soup.
Although you can use escarole in many recipes, including garden salads, escarole shines in soups and stews.
What Texture Does Escarole Have?
Escarole comes in heads, similar to heads of lettuce, and the leaves vary in color and texture from the outside to the inside. The outer leaves are tougher and chewier and are perfect for soups, stews, or sauteing.
These are also the more bitter leaves that can most benefit from being cooked to reduce the bitterness.
The inner part of the head of an escarole is lighter, crisper, and easier to chew. These leaves are softer and easier to chew. They are also less bitter.
The inner leaves are not the best for cooking, but they make a perfect addition to salads or mixes of greens.
Where Does Escarole Come From?
Escarole has been a popular green for a long time and has carved out a major place in our culinary traditions. Today, it is grown around the world, and the variety at your local grocery store could be grown almost anywhere.
Originally native to India, escarole was brought to Egypt and then Greece, cultivated for both its taste and nutrition.
Eventually, it found its way to Italy, where the “true” endive, now also called the Belgian endive, was a popular ingredient.
This lighter and slightly less bitter relative of the endive quickly became popular. Today, escarole is a major ingredient in many iconic Italian dishes.
If you go shopping for escarole, the head you pick up probably came from a close agricultural region, but the recipe you use to cook your escarole and the culinary tradition it belongs to come from Italy.
Is Escarole Healthy? Are There Dangers To Eating Escarole?
Escarole is a nutrient-rich leafy green that packs plenty of nutritional value and would make a great addition to your healthy diet.
There is a lot of fiber in escarole – 12% of your daily requirement which makes it great for improving your gut health and reducing the risk of constipation and piles.
It also reduces inflammation and prevents cancer with antioxidants like kaempferol, which removes free radicals from the bloodstream.
Studies also suggest that kaempferol may be able to safeguard human cells from the effects of chronic inflammation.
The nutrition in escarole also supports healthy eye and bone health. With 54% of your daily requirement for vitamin A, 2 cups of escarole can help you prevent night blindness and macular degeneration.
Escarole also contains vitamin K which helps to regulate blood clotting and K1, which has been shown in studies to reduce bone fractures and slow the development of heart disease in postmenopausal women.
We could probably all use some extra leafy greens in our diet, and escarole is a great choice because it is dense in nutrients and antioxidants.
How Can I Store Escarole?
When you bring a head of escarole home from the grocery store, store it in the crisper in your refrigerator for up to 5 days before cooking it.
If the outer leaves have started to wilt, remove them. Of course, the sooner you cook your fresh escarole, the better.
You can keep cooked escarole in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Make sure to keep it in a sealed container.
Can You Freeze Escarole?
It is not recommended to store escarole (raw or cooked) in the freezer. The high moisture content of escarole means that freezing ruins the texture and consistency, and negatively impacts the flavor.
How To Tell If Escarole Is Bad?
When fresh escarole starts to go bad, the outer leaves wilt first, becoming limp, spotty, and brown. If you’re familiar with lettuce, you know what you are looking for!
The inner leaves might be salvageable even if the outside of the head has completely wilted.
It is a little harder to tell if cooked escarole has gone bad. Soups or stews made with escarole should not be stored in a refrigerator for longer than 3 days.
Always throw out food you’re not sure about or food that has been in your refrigerator for a long time.
How Can I Pick Escarole At A Grocery Store?
First of all, although escarole is in the chicory family and related to radicchio, you won’t find it with its closest brothers and sisters – you will find escarole with lettuce, kale, and collard greens.
It is very easy to mistake escarole for butterhead lettuce, but the lettuce leaves are much smoother than the jagged escarole leaves.
You’ll want to select a head that has a bright, healthy green coloration without any browning or wilting on the outer leaves.
The best months for escarole are in the winter. It can be grown in a temperate climate and is often harvested between November and May. When it starts to get cold and you long for the warmth of an Italian wedding soup, look for escarole.
Can You Grow Escarole?
It’s fairly easy to grow escarole. All things considered, it is about as simple to grow escarole as it is to grow lettuce or endive, and these are very straightforward crops.
It is recommended to start seeds indoors before the last frost, and plant in early spring. Escarole is a hearty crop and can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked. It likes to grow in a colder environment, usually colder than 24C.
However, you don’t need a farm or even a garden to get started. If you are interested in growing your own escarole, you can start indoors at home with artificial lights.
Leafy greens don’t take a lot of space or time to grow, and they mature fairly quickly, so with a minimal setup, you can produce your own greens (including escarole) throughout the winter.
How Do You Cook Escarole?
There are many different ways to prepare escarole, depending on how much time you have and what your tastes are.
You can cut it up fresh and add it to a salad or a wrap for a pleasantly bitter addition to your mix of greens.
You can saute escarole with a bit of garlic and butter or olive oil. The softened greens have a mellower, less bitter flavor that pairs perfectly with garlic.
There are also so many different soup and stew recipes that call for escarole as an ingredient, to complement the other flavors.
Escarole Nutritional Information
|Per 85g serving, according to Healthline.com|
|Iron||4% of the Daily Value|
|Vitamin A||58% of the DV|
|Vitamin K||164% of the DV|
|Vitamin C||10% of the DV|
|Folate||30% of the DV|
|Zinc||6% of the DV|
|Copper||9% of the DV|
Quick Table: Escarole Recipes
|Sauteed Escarole With Garlic And Parmesan Cheese||76||20 Minutes|
|Pasta E Fagioli With Escarole||318||1 Hour|
|Escarole And Cannellini Bean Soup In Parmesan Broth||230||20 Minutes|
This recipe makes escarole the star of the show and highlights what is great about this ingredient.
It’s also very easy to cook. You can prepare this delicious side dish in about 15 minutes, and serve it immediately. The flavors are unbelievable and you would think it came from a high-end restaurant, but it is practically fast food!
Like many Italian dishes, it benefits from unadorned, rustic goodness and simplicity that shines through fresh ingredients.
With no other major flavors to steal the show, this dish is perfect when you have a specific craving for escarole, or if you want to show off your new favorite food to a friend, or your family.
The pairing of garlic and parmesan cheese with delicately wilted, sauteed greens is classic.
If you only have a few minutes, or you want a side dish that is guaranteed to impress, try sauteed escarole.
The perfect meal for winter in Italy.
This smorgasbord of rich and hearty ingredients, from beans and celery to carrots and rosemary, is a classic of Italian cuisine that just isn’t the same without escarole.
It’s a stew that will delight your taste buds while filling your stomach and keeping you warm for another eight hours. The escarole is a lighter green which gives this dish more textural variety and a different flavor.
You really can’t make pasta e Fagioli without escarole. This solid recipe gives you a basis to make your own Italian stew starring escarole that will last you through the winter.
This recipe is a spinoff of the extremely popular recipe for Italian wedding soup – just without the meatballs, and made a little bit lighter. This version tends to highlight the escarole and other vegetables.
Escarole and cannellini beans make up the bulk of this soup, but the true star of this meal is parmesan.
With a base broth of parmesan and a liberal helping added on top at the end, parmesan cheese drives the mixing flavors and makes a rich complement to the leafy and slightly bitter escarole, and the meaty cannellini beans.
Escarole is a green meant for winter, and this hearty soup gives you the best of an Italian wedding soup while making it all about the light flavor of the escarole, and it’s perfect accent flavor, parmesan.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Escarole Similar To?
Escarole is a leafy green that is closely related to chicory and radicchio. It is slightly bitter, like those greens, and grows in similar conditions.
However, at the grocery store, you will see escarole next to kale and collard greens. Escarole is more similar to these greens when it comes to how it is cooked and eaten.
If you want a replacement for escarole, your best bet is probably Belgian endives or kale.
What Does Escarole Taste Like When Cooked?
When it is cooked, escarole has a mellow and wholesome vegetal flavor, with less bitterness than raw. In soups and stews, it is easy to wilt it slightly so that the texture is soft and the flavor permeates the broth.
What Do People Use Escarole For?
Escarole is a popular ingredient for salads, soups, and stews.
In salads, escarole provides a slightly bitter complement to other greens like lettuce or kale.
However, in soups and stews, escarole really shines. In a soup (like Italian wedding soup), a green like kale can impart an overpowering flavor and too much bitterness, while spinach or lettuce wilts too early and becomes slimy, losing its texture as well as its flavor.
Escarole strikes a perfect compromise – it is light and flavorful without dominating the dish while remaining tough enough to wilt gently and not become slimy.
Does Escarole Taste Like Lettuce?
Lettuce and escarole are both greens, so they have a similar vegetal taste and texture, but there are also significant differences.
Lettuce is generally lightly sweet, without any bitterness. In contrast, escarole has a slight bitterness that comes through when you chew it.
Although escarole and lettuce are somewhat similar, they do have different flavors. If you are trying to replace lettuce, you would be better off choosing spinach than escarole.
If you are trying to replace escarole, you would be better off choosing Belgian endives or kale.
What Is Healthier, Escarole, Or Spinach?
Spinach and escarole are both very healthy foods, with tons of nutrients and antioxidants. Either one is a healthy part of your diet.
If you have to compare the two nutritionally, spinach is the stronger contender. Although the two are very similar when it comes to fat content, carbohydrates, and protein, spinach is significantly higher in several macronutrients.
However, practically speaking, it won’t make a big difference to your health if you occasionally swap out one for the other.
You can feel comfortable choosing whichever green you prefer for a certain dish because they are both very healthy ingredients.
How Do You Get The Bitterness Out Of Escarole?
You can reduce the bitter taste of escarole by heating it – whether that means sauteing it in a pan, adding it to a soup or stew, or shocking the leaves with hot water.
To do this, immerse the head of the escarole in hot (but not boiling) water for 2-3 minutes. Immediately transfer it into a bowl of cold water to cool it down.
This should reduce the bitter taste without actually wilting the leaves, so you can enjoy the escarole in a salad if you like, and reduce bitterness.
What Part Of Escarole Do You Eat?
Like lettuce, you can eat both the inner and outer leaves of the head of the escarole.
The outer leaves are generally tougher and more bitter. If the escarole is going bad, some of the outer leaves may need to be removed. The inner leaves are crisper, softer, and less bitter. These can be eaten directly in salads.
All parts of escarole can be eaten (except the stalk), although you might want to separate the outer and inner leaves for different dishes because they have different textures and tastes.
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