Escarole soup: Take Mom’s advice

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Kermit the Frog had it right. It’s not easy being green.

Lost in the supermarket case with a jumble of other greens, at first glance escarole looks like just another head of iceberg lettuce. Belonging to the chicory family, escarole is not even a relative. It can be eaten raw, sauteed, grilled or cooked in other dishes.

Compared to iceberg, escarole has two to three more times the nutrient values and is especially high in vitamin A. It’s what your mother ordered when she said, “Eat your greens.”

My favorite way to eat escarole is in soup. Unlike collards or kale, it doesn’t require a lengthy cooking time. Adding a package of tortellini to the pot makes the soup filling enough for a winter’s supper.

Escarole soup belongs to the cucina povera, or peasant style cooking, family of dishes. That is, it is flavorful, cheap and filling. It takes humble ingredients and combines them so they become more than the sum of their parts.

I haven’t done an extensive inventory of local supermarkets, but fresh escarole can be found at PriceRite, which is known for carrying a wide variety of fresh vegetables. For the tortellini, I like the Barilla brand. I buy the pasta when it’s on sale and usually have two or three bags in my pantry.

Escarole soup comes together quickly, but it is important not to skimp on the time to clean the greens. Nobody likes grit at the bottom of the soup bowl. To clean, cut off the root end of the escarole head and separate the leaves. Place them in a large bowl of water, swish them around for a minute or two, and then drain.

Escarole Soup

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 head escarole, washed and cut in ribbons

8-10 cups stock or water (depending on the size of your head of escarole)

1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)

1 12-ounce package tortellini

Grated Parmesan or Romano for serving

Heat the olive oil over a medium flame in a large soup pot. Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic to the pot. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 8 minutes.

Add the stock or water and the escarole. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Cook covered for 30 minutes.

Add the tortellini and cook for 10 minutes more. Serve topped with grated cheese.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.