spicy escarole with sausage and tomatoes

A few years ago, if you had asked me to identify the vegetable up there, I would have scrunched up my face, looked at it sideways, and said, “Really good green leaf lettuce?”

Nope. It’s escarole. I first ate it only a few years ago, thanks to Danny. This is the first winter that I’m no longer confusing it with Belgian endive.

I’m not really that slow. It’s just that I didn’t grow up with escarole. My guess is that most of you didn’t either.

My fellow fabulous gluten-free blogger, Diane of The Whole Gang, put up the following fact on Facebook recently: “In the early 1970s, grocery stores stocked around 8000 items. In 2009, the number was over 48,000 items.

That’s a huge difference. And frankly, I think about 1/4 of it is from different brands of shampoos. Why do we need so many choices?

This statistic makes me gulp because it seems that most of the increase comes from bags and boxes of processed food. Do we really need microwaveable pork rinds? Frozen crustless sandwiches? Cheese-like food product you can spray from a can? Guacamole without any actual avocado? Fat-free cookies? Anything with high fructose corn syrup?

Most packaged food makes me a little sick to even look at it. Now that I can’t eat gluten, and xanthan and guar gum give my stomach fits, and I started avoiding food additives I could not pronounce long ago, there’s not much of the food-like substances I can eat anymore. Looks like I have to eat real food.

However, along with the zombie-like march of scary processed foods into grocery stores, we’re lucky when we walk into a grocery store now.

When I was growing up, there was only one kind of greens available in our Southern California grocery store: iceberg lettuce. I never saw mizuna, lacinato kale, arugula, frisee, or even romaine. There was one choice for us: a wedge of iceberg with a sliced tomato and ranch dressing. (I still love this, by the way.)

If you grew up in a family that gardened, you’re the one most likely to have eaten this slightly-bitter-and-somehow-almost-sweet winter green. It’s not as if it was just invented, after all. Growing food from seeds gives us a chance to play and experiment with plants we may not know well. Lu knows fava beans, at 2, and she’s talking about growing them again this year. I never ate a fava bean until I was in my late 30s. We want this kid to know her vegetables.

Do you remember when sushi moved into the grocery store? Or coconut oil? Or even olive oil, for that matter?

Think of all the gluten-free foods flooding the market now. We who have to eat gluten-free have so many choices that we can disdain some!

I’m grateful that I’m now seeing escarole in our grocery store. I missed it without knowing it.

If you want to discover foods you may not know and dishes you have never cooked before, you need to buy One Big Table: 600 recipes from the nation’s best home cooks, farmers, fishermen, pit-masters, and chefs.

I utterly adore this book. It’s not for the faint of heart or weak of bicep: this book is 864 pages long, counting the index, and weighs about 6 pounds. I’m not exaggerating. Carrying it around the house while reading is a tiny workout.

Why do I love this book? Because it’s a story, a long, rambling story of many small stories collected together, with digressions on salad dressings, anecdotes about appetizers, narratives about poultry and grains, little spiels about seafood and desserts. It’s the American story, told through meals made in country kitchens, Midwestern homes, Southern porches, and on the docks just feet away from fishing boats. No wonder it’s such a huge book. You can’t tell the American story in a pithy fashion.

There’s an incredible conversation happening about food in this country. We’re talking about where our food comes from, how it reaches our tables, the possible dangers of caramel color and food dyes, the best way to shop and cook and eat. This loud, fractious, sometimes laughing conversation has never taken place in my lifetime, or at least it wasn’t loud enough for me to hear it. I love this. I love how messy and sometimes elegiac and mostly productive the conversation about food is right now. We’re talking about the good stuff.

However, reading One Big Table makes me remember that once you clear away political conversation, the good stuff is happening in homes across this country, in quiet ways, in families of every kind.

The book has a recipe for Coconut-Marinated Chicken Over Coconut Rice, created by Jonathan Rosenberg of Ohio. He decided to adopt a boy from Vietnam, even though he didn’t have a partner yet. As a way of understanding his son’s culture, he’s learning to cook Vietnamese food. We want to do this too.

There’s Fathiyyan Mustafa’s Creamy Grits and Chard. Azeez and Fathiyyan Mustafa lost their jobs and mortgage in New Jersey in the 1970s. Broke with two children, they moved back to South Carolina to the small plot of land they still owned. They started gardening, because growing their own vegetables was one way to save money and feed the family. They did it organically because they couldn’t afford pesticides. Their success led to a co-op of gardens in the area, which became hugely successful. Now, they mentor other farmers on how to grow organic and make a living at it. This makes me want to grow chard.

There’s Rick Jarrett’s Sherpherd’s Stew, from Big Timber, Montana. A fifth-generation rancher on the same plot of land his ancestors first tackled in the 1880s, Jarrett shared the recipe for the lamb stew served every summer at sheep camp, the only opportunity for lonely ranchers to see other folks making a living doing the same thing. I want to eat that stew for dinner tonight.

The storytelling in One Big Table makes me want to cook every dish.

The food in this cookbook is incredible, simple to spectacular. Every dish we have made has worked well. More than that, however, I read this cookbook for its stories, for its generosity, for its broad understanding of how complex the culture of this country is. Some of us seem to believe that we’re one narrow set of beings in this country. Making scrambled eggs is easier than a mushroom-sausage-kale frittata. But reading One Big Table, it’s clear that America is as much Greek Chicken and Artichoke Stew, Makah Indian Slow-Cooked Salmon, Armenian Mackerel, Persian Kebabs, Brazilian Black Bean Stew, and Cape Verdean Jagacida as we are fried chicken and apple pie.

Thank goodness for it.

I don’t see how anyone could ever grow bored with food in this country.

When I wanted something to do with escarole other than chopping it up into salads, the first place I looked was One Big Table. I haven’t put it down since.

I think we’ll always be cooking out of this book.

HILDA MINTER’S SPICY ESCAROLE, slightly adapted from One Big Table: 600 recipes from the nation’s best home cooks, farmers, fishermen, pit-masters, and chefs

I have to tell you, when I first read about stewing escarole in a sauce of tomatoes, spicy sausage, and garlic? I had my doubts. I mean — I love those foods and flavors. However, thinking of escarole as a lettuce made me worry this would be a soggy dish.

Think again. The softened escarole somehow still has a crunch. Any bitterness in the fresh green is calmed by the small sweetness of the tomato. The chorizo adds a little heat, but not so much that you walk around with your mouth hanging open, begging for air. There’s something about stewing great flavors together that makes them far more memorable than when they stand alone.

That Hilda Minter knows what she’s doing.  Minter’s husband decided in the late 1980s that God was directing him to turn their backyard into a sculpture park about the African-American experience. When people started arriving by the busload, she began making big pots of this spicy escarole. I’m sure that sculpture park is lovely, but I’d take a bus ride just to eat some of this.

3 tablespoons olive oil (Minter’s recipe calls for bacon grease. We didn’t have any.)
2 chorizo links, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 heads escarole, dark outer leaves removed, inner leaves chopped coarsely
2 cups high-quality canned diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon oregano
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1 to 3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Sautéing the sausage. Set a deep skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. Put the sausage and garlic into the hot oil. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is golden-brown, about 2 minutes. (Don’t burn it!) Add the red pepper flakes. Stir.Add the escarole and stir, cooking until the escarole starts to wilt.

Finishing the stew. Immediately add the tomatoes and oregano. Stir. Add a couple of pinches of salt and pepper and stir until the liquid comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the escarole is softened, but not entirely soggy, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and cover it, and then allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Take the lid off the pan and season with salt, pepper, and as much of the apple cider vinegar as tastes good to you.

Serve with cornbread or drop biscuits.

Feeds 4.

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21 comments on “spicy escarole with sausage and tomatoes

  1. Ilke

    I have been cooking from this book since November and loving it. You are right, the story telling makes the whole difference and allows you to be a part of it!
    I have met Molly O’Neill in one of her book signing and loved her as well. She has been amazing, responding to my emails! Sometimes, I don’t even find half of that response in the blogging community to tell you the truth!
    Will definitely put this on the table soon as well! Lovely and warming picture!

  2. Erika

    I just got your book today in the mail. I have read it cover to cover. I have to say I may have neglected some things. I only came up for air to make coconut fruit smoothies for the kids and dinner… the kitchen is a royal mess, and its now 1AM here in South Carolina… I LOVED every second of it Ya’ll!!! WOW! I have recently gone gluten free, well a paleo lifestyle, but mainly for the gluten free reasons. I found your site and have been blown away. Cooking is my passion. When my health issues led me to give up gluten, I too thought, well this is just a new path, a new adventure in learning new ways to cook. Thanks for all you do and I really look forward to your site and cooking out of your wonderful book!!!!! I listed my website, but I just started it this week, its brand spankin new, so not much there yet. I plan to add recipes as I discover new ways of gluten free cooking, and paleo foods!!! Erika

  3. Laurie

    Shauna,
    Wonderful post. I call myself a perimeter shopper, as most of what I buy is located on the outside aisles of the supermarket. All the processed food is in the middle. While I venture in there for a few things, the bulk of what lands in my cart is fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts. I often look at other shopping carts, especially those that are filled to brim with processed foods and think it’s great that this grass roots movement of good cooking, and discussion about food, is happening in this country. Thank you for contributing so eloquently to the movement. You’re truly a gem!

  4. Ina Gawne

    Shauna – that book sounds wonderful! My kind of book – love the stories, I love learning about what people cooked and ate in yesteryear. Thanks for sharing, I must check out amazon!

  5. Nina

    I know Molly! Met her through my friend Christiane in Atlanta and have her “A Well-Seasoned Appetite” cookbook. Her brother is/was a major league baseball player. (I think for the Yankees?) Thanks for the head’s up about this book- must get it, but we have run out of room for cookbooks- and that’s true in both kitchens! Where are you putting all the cookbooks?

    Someday there will be a website that is a virtual library of cookbooks. Maybe you could pay a fee to join and have online access to all pages… (I do love books, as you know… just feel guilty adding to the mountain of them at home sometimes)

  6. Lisa

    I agree completely about One Big Table! I got a copy for Christmas and it’s wonderful. I love reading the stories behind the recipes.

  7. Pat @ GlutenFreeAroundTheWorld.com

    Thanks for letting me know about this book Shauna, I imagine it has quite a few regional foods that are gluten free.

    I can’t wait to try this recipe, but I think I’ll try grilling the escarole first, as grilling or roasting may mellow the bitterness a bit. (At least that works with radicchio, which is related- worth a try if you’re not fond of the strong flavor.)

    Pat

  8. Amanda

    Shauna, how wonderful that Lu already knows about growing (and eating) fava beans. We grew a lot of vegetables when I was growing up in Scotland, and it makes me sad that Lucy doesn’t know how good it smells to dig potatoes. She’s 2 1/2 – I guess there’s time. Anyway thanks for such a fabulous book recommendation. I love escarole. And iceberg lettuce. Now if we could just come up with some recipe that combined the two…

  9. TRESHEA

    Oh – em – gee……..this recipe is sooooo great and yummy. We actually mixed the sausage–sweet Italian and hot bulk (not links) and we used included cantellini beans…YUMMINESS! Oh, and we didnt use tomatoes since I don’t eat them. We served it with your recommendation–homemade buttermilk biscuits. Wonderful wonderful adaptation of a great recipe. Thanks!

  10. Erica

    I love love love escarole. I am one of the lucky few that grew up with gardening parents and we had lots of winter greens to get us through the cold months. My favorite escarole dish is to simply saute it with some garlic and oil then toss with whole grain pasta (I really like the brown rice penne from Trader Joes) and blue cheese…add in a little pasta water and you have an instant yummy sauce 🙂 The spicy bitter escarole is a perfect match for pungent blue cheese.

  11. Lily

    Shauna,
    Thanks so much for your cookbook. DH and I bought it yesterday, and it is so lovely! I haven’t finished it yet, but am so deeply enjoying your love story, the chef’s technical advice, and looking forward to trying the recipes. Thanks for the hope, and the invitation to discover the joy of cooking great food.

  12. clbtx

    Hi Shauna – wonderful recipe! I will look for some escarole to see if I can make it in the near future. I assume it’s ok to substitute a different green (spinach maybe) if I can’t find it? And, this might be a dumb question, but how much is “two links” of chorizo? Your stew looks pretty meaty, but my idea of a “link” is way smaller than than. Thanks!

  13. Janet NZ

    When I was diagnosed with celiac disease (December 2009) the first information I found was your first book, and through you I discovered foodblogs. Since then, I have done heaps of learning about food – growing food, cooking food – REAL food – of all ethnic origins.
    Celiac disease has been the best thing that happened to me – not only do I get to feel much better, but I have also ‘met’ an amazing community of like-minded people from all over the world.
    Celiac disease ROCKS! 🙂

  14. Melanie

    I don’t own many cookbooks, but I soon have to get yours as I’ve been hearing wonderful things about it. Thanks for recommending, One Big Table. I know if you recommend it that it will be worth it 🙂

  15. Julie

    I love this book too. I adore its heft, knowing so much of it is attributed to the stories behind the food! Perfect for people like me who stash piles of cookbooks beside my bed. (Yours included!)

  16. marcella

    Oh, that dish looks so very delicious! We’re taking a sausage making class this weekend and will surely have to use some of it in this recipe. I’ve only eaten escarole cooked – my favorite is in a soup with meatballs and orzo (or rice). Cookbooks with stories are really the best kind. I can read them like a great novel and also be inspired to cook something new.

  17. Madeleine

    WONDERFUL! I made this w/tuscan kale b/c escarole is nowhere to be found here. I put it over polenta and it was delicious! The leftovers the next day were even better. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful experiments in the kitchen!

    My mission this week – to try your Irish soda bread rolls from last year’s post!
    One question that I have – can I just substitute the flaxseed/hot water mixture for the gums in your older recipes? I read your earlier posts on this issue and it wasn’t clear to me if I could just eliminate the gums in breads or if you need to substitute the flaxseed mixture.

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