Escarole is a great vegetable that is used much in Neapolitan cuisine, in soups and salads or just braised with garlic and oil. In this recipe, blanched escarole leaves are wrapped around a savory stuffing (as with cabbage) and baked. Serve these rolls as an elegant antipasto or as a vegetarian main course.
- 2 medium heads of escarole, 1 pound each
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
- ½ cup bread crumbs, toasted
- ½ cup grated pecorino
- 9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sliced garlic
- ¼ cup black oil cured olives, pitted and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons golden raisins, plumped in warm water, drained and roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons small capers, drained
- ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Bring 6 quarts or more water to the boil in the large pot. Remove any damaged outer leaves from the escarole heads but otherwise keep them whole and attached at the base. To clean them, spread the leaves open and dunk the heads, leaves first, into a sink or basin filled with cold water, to rinse away any dirt or debris.
To blanch the escarole, push the heads leaves first into the boiling water, submerging them completely. Return the water to the boil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to soften the leaves. Place the heads, still attached, in a colander to drain and cool.
Toss together the toasted pine nuts, bread crumbs and ¼ cup of the grated pecorino in a bowl. Remove about 1/3 of the mixture and set aside for topping the rolls—leave the larger amount in the bowl for the filling.
Pour 5 tablespoons of the olive oil into skillet and set over medium heat. Stir the sliced garlic in the oil and cook for a minute or so until sizzling. Stir in the olives, toast them for a minute, then toss in the raisins and capers and cook for just a minute more. Scrape all the savories and oil from the skillet into the bread crumb filling mixture and toss together.
Heat the oven to 375° and put a rack in the center. Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in the baking dish.
Lay the blanched heads of escarole on a large cutting board. Divide each head in half, slicing lengthwise through the core and base, now slice each half in two lengthwise: You should have 8 clusters of escarole leaves, still attached at the base. Spread each cluster open like a fan and flatten them, so they resemble a single large leaf which will enclose the filling—just like cabbage leaves.
When all the clusters are open, cut off and discard the tough bases holding the leaves together. Move leaves from one cluster to another so the escarole fans are of equal size and shape.
Divide all the filling equally among the fans (2 to 3 tablespoons each), laying it in small oblong mounds near the base of the leaves. Roll up the escarole just enough to cover the filling, fold in the sides of the leaf fans, then continue rolling to form fairly compact oval rolls.
Arrange the rolls in the oiled pan, leaving space between them. Sprinkle salt all over the rolls, then the reserved mixture of bread crumbs and pine nuts and the remaining grated cheese. Finally, drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil all over the rolls.
Cover the baking dish with a sheet of aluminum foil, arched so it doesn’t touch the rolls, and press it against the sides. Bake for about 30 minutes, remove the foil, and bake another 5 or 10 minutes until the escarole rolls are lightly caramelized and the toppings are crisp and golden brown. Serve hot.