Recipe: Escarole Salad with Sautéed Rosemary Pears, Pine Nuts, and Ricotta Salata
Italian-Americans were way ahead of everyone else in their love of bitter, a cooking angle that’s recently been taken up by restaurant chefs around the country. Bitter greens are now trendy, but their pull has always been in my blood. And on it goes, a bittersweet holdover from my ancestors’ days spent foraging for wild greens on sun-baked hillsides. Arugula, broccoli rabe, dandelions, escarole, and chicories of all sorts were on my family table when I was a kid, cooked and raw. Arugula wasn’t available at all in most markets in the sixties and seventies. My father planted cuttings that our neighbors had smuggled in from Sorrento. The stuff grew like the weed it is, taking over his little garden. Dandelions we picked from our lawn. I adored all those greens back then, and my admiration just grows. I’m constantly looking for new ways to serve them, stepping away easily from the traditional garlic and olive oil treatment.
My mother made raw escarole salads, usually with red onion, tomato, and maybe a handful of cubed provolone (this was before it was popular to shave cheese), tossing it all in a simple vinaigrette, whose only drawback, as far as I was concerned, was the presence of dried oregano, never a favorite taste for me. It was a great salad, and escarole is my favorite salad green. I love its ruffly edged, sturdy leaves, and light green color. It is faintly bitter when raw but also juicy, and it’s a really good mixer. Capacollo, pecorino, fruit, nuts—whatever you want to add, it can take it, so it’s an excellent base for improvisation.
Here’s my new fall take on the escarole salad.
Escarole Salad with Sautéed Rosemary Pears, Pine Nuts, and Ricotta Salata
2 ripe but firm pears (green or red Anjou, Bartlett, or Bosc would be my choice), unpeeled and cut into approximately ¼-inch-thick slices
Extra-virgin olive oil
A small shallot, red if available, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
A big pinch of sugar
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves well chopped
1 large head escarole, torn into small pieces
A big handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
¼ pound ricotta salata, crumbled
1½ teaspoons Spanish sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon soy sauce
A few scrapings of nutmeg
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
In a medium skillet, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over high flame. When hot, add the pears and shallots, and season with a tiny pinch of salt, black pepper, a big pinch of sugar, and the rosemary. Sauté quickly, just until the rosemary gives off its aroma, about a minute or so. You only want to take the raw edge off the pears, not cook them through.
Place the escarole, pine nuts, and ricotta salata in a large salad bowl. Add the pears.
Whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, nutmeg, garlic clove, and about 2 tablespoons or so of olive oil, seasoning with salt and black pepper. Pour this over the salad. Toss gently.