This easy green will get you through the winter, from salads to soups. 

Escarole is one of those green leafy vegetables that people either know or don't. A member of the chicory family of bitter greens, it is one of my favorite products to buy, especially in the cold months. The taste is a cross between endive and romaine, so not as bitter as some of the other chicories like frisee or radicchio, and one of those magical vegetables that is as good raw as it is cooked.

How to buy and store escarole

If you have never shopped for escarole, you will find it in the head lettuce section of your produce section, often near the endives. Look for heads with wide stems on the leaves, paler green over darker, and head should be heavy for their size. Assume one large head of escarole will feed one to two people for a main course salad, or three to four as a side dish or appetizer sized salad. Store wrapped in damp paper towels in a zip top bag until ready to use. Escarole can last five to six days in the fridge when stored properly.

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How to prep and store escarole for salads

To prep, remove any outer leaves that seem damaged or slimy, remove the bottom inch and discard and then chop the head into the size pieces you want. Place the chopped escarole in a large bowl filled with cold water and swirl around to loosen any dirt or debris. The escarole will float to the top of the bowl and the debris will sink, so gently remove the leaves from the water to a separate bowl and dump the dirty water. Repeat up to two more times if you think the escarole was particularly dirty. Then use a salad spinner to dry the leaves. Once prepped the escarole will last two to three days in the fridge in a zip top bag. 

How to use escarole in salads

As great as it is to cook with, I especially love escarole in salads. When I entertain, escarole salad is my go-to. It is the perfect middle-ground for folks who are fans of fancier lettuces and those who prefer an iceberg or romaine. It is hearty enough to stand up to being dressed for a bit on a buffet, where more delicate greens wilt and get soggy. The punchy flavor can stand up to the most intense vinaigrette but is also pals with a more subtle creamy dressing. I will often use it alone with a wonderful lemon Dijon dressing for a simple salad that leans into having salad accompanying the meal, as a palate brightener next to rich roasted or braised meats. Or as the base of a hearty salad meal like a Niçoises or steak salad. It is a fun twist for a classic Caesar and works well in any composed salad like a Cobb.

One of my favorite salads for entertaining is a combination of escarole, green apple, celery, and shaved parmesan cheese tossed with lemon juice and olive oil and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. It is a rare salad that is fresh and bright with terrific textures, and even still tastes great the next day if you have leftovers. 

How to cook with escarole

Italians love to cook with it. They sauté it, stir it into soups or stews, add it to pastas or cook it with beans. Escarole is great for all these applications, since the hearty stems retain a bit of crunch, and unlike many leafy greens, the leaves don't get slimy or slippery in the cooking process. The taste when cooked is less bitter and intense than kale but has the same meaty texture.