Thursday, July 23, 2015

Escarole Loaded Tomato Sauce with Fresh Basil

Our home of the moment on this nomadic adventure is Utica, New York.  We've only been here a few weeks (and only here for about one more), but in that little time, it's become obvious that Utica has about three claims to fame: beer, the Boilermaker, and Utica Greens.  Since we didn't sign up in time for the Boilermaker, and I'm not a big fan of beer, I've been focusing on the latter.  I'm from Central New York, so I've experienced Utica Greens before- in fact, I've made my own "healthified" version before.  I had no idea though that Utica Greens are on the menu of just about every restaurant in the Utica/New Hartfod area. Each restaurant has its own proportion of ingredients, which largely stay the same no matter the maker.  Those key ingredients are escarole, hot cherry peppers, Parmesan/Romano, prosciutto, and bread crumbs.  Since we've been here, we've sampled a few variations on the weekends, but they are a little too indulgent for my normal weekdays.

 Still, I've got escarole and cherry peppers on my mind, even if I don't want to douse them in cheese and breadcrumbs.  I had some calamari in the freezer, which made me think marinara sauce, and combined that thought with my obsession with escarole.  I made the sauce completely separate from the calamari, and had enough for the next night's dinner as well, where it was combined with rotisserie chicken (on sale for $2.20!! can't beat that).  I just took some meat off of the chicken and threw it into the sauce as it was reheating.  It would also be great with meatballs, as a dip for bread, rolled up in roasted eggplant pieces, or on spaghetti squash (or pasta if you're into that ;-)).  And though I avoided adding cheese on this particular occasion, some Parmesan would make an excellent addition.


1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1/2 head of garlic, cloves peeled and sliced
1/4 cup sliced hot cherry peppers, fresh or pickled *
2 medium tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 LARGE or 2 small heads escarole, WASHED and torn into large chunks**
salt and black pepper to taste
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomato
5 anchovies, or a scant tablespoon anchovy paste
10-15 kalamata olives, sliced
1/2 cup fresh basil, sliced

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot.  Add onions and garlic.  Saute for a couple minutes, then add cherry peppers and saute for another couple minutes.  Add tomatoes and stir.  Add escarole, stirring as you add.  It won't all fit in the pot all at once, but as it wilts, you'll be able to add more.  Once all of the escarole is added, add the can of crushed tomato, the anchovy paste, and the kalamata olives.  Stir and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and let it continue to simmer for 20-30 minutes, uncovered unless it starts to get too thick.  Stir every now and then as it simmers.  Add the fresh basil, reserving a little for garnish if desired.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

*this will make it HOT, so use less or omit if you don't want spicy
**if your escarole looks like it is lost in the tomato sauce because you didn't have a big enough head, you can add in some romaine lettuce leaves to up the green proportion.  I did this and couldn't even tell what was romaine and what was escarole when I was eating. :-)