Esca-rolls (Stuffed Escarole)

This recipe for stuffed escarole comes adapted from Lydia Bastianich’s. (She is my all-time favorite television cook, but I think of her more as a teacher than a chef.)

Escarole is a bitter green that, in my opinion, is underused in the U.S., especially in home kitchens. Paired with sweet raisins, it makes for a quick yet complex side dish. Everything in this recipe, from the capers to the garlic, is a balance of bitter, salty, and sweet flavors.

These stuffed escarole, or as I like to call them esca-rolls, are elegant and seem a lot like they take a lot more effort than they really do. Rolling them is a little bit tricky, but once don’t worry if they’re loose. They’ll firm up a little when they bake.

When it comes to amounts of ingredients, I am horribly imprecise. If you make a small bowlful of the stuffing, there will be more than enough for five or six rolls; and the excess gets sprinkled on top any way, so it’s okay to make too much.
1 head escarole, rinsed
Hard cheese, grated, e.g., Pecorino Romano or Parmigiana (a few tablespoons, but less than a 1/4 cup)
Day-old bread cut into very small cubes, or fresh breadcrumbs, maybe between 1/2 cup and 1 cup
Chopped black olives, about a 12-18 olives
Capers, maybe a tablespoon’s worth
Olive oil
Pine nuts (pignoli), maybe 2 or 3 tablespoons, a handful
Golden raisins, soaked, about a small handful, maybe 1/4 cup
2 or 3 cloves of fresh garlic, sliced
Set a large pot of water to boil.

Set an ovenproof skillet or small Dutch oven (or if you don’t have this, just a small skillet) over medium heat. Toast the pine nuts, dry. Set pine nuts aside. In the same pan, toast the bread crumbs lightly, 2 or 3 minutes. Set aside with the pine nuts.

Lower the heat and add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the same pan. Add the sliced garlic and let it cook one minute, until fragrant, but do not brown. Add the capers and olives. Cook another 30 seconds or so, just to heat everything through and let the flavors meld. Close the flame. Add the pine nuts and breadcrumbs back to the pan and toss to coat. Pour this mixture back into the reserved bowl. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Reserve the oiled pan.

When the water boils, use a pair of tongs to dunk the escarole, headfirst, into the water. Cook one or two minutes. Remove from hot water and dunk in cold water. Set upside down to drain. Gently squeeze excess water.
Preheat oven to 350.

On a large cutting board, trim the tip from the escarole, then cut lengthwise into five or six pieces, if you can manage. You may find that there are not many long, flat leaves, but it’s okay. You can make do. Try to pick a few long leaves and lay them flat to start. Fan a few smaller leaves around them. Put a small scoop – about a tablespoon’s worth – onto the leaves, then roll it up like a burrito. Place it into the reserved pan (or a different, oiled baking dish if you don’t have anything suitable that can also work on the stovetop) seam down. Repeat until you have five or six bundles.

Spoon the remaining stuffing on top of the escarole packages. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake, uncovered, until the top breadcrumbs turn golden.