THIS DINNER STARTED with a to-go lunch. On our way from Massachusetts back to Washington DC, my husband and I pulled into Jerry’s Gourmet and More in Englewood, New Jersey, to grab food for the road. Jerry’s is an amazing place: a deli, produce and gourmet store hidden in a small warehouse district under Route I-80 (for those who know the road!). If you can find Jerry’s, it’s a great place to stop for authentic Italian subs, a hunk of Parmesan and some prosciutto bread for the road.
It wasn’t a sandwich that caught my eye that day, it was the escarole and white beans. Escarole and beans is a classic Italian dish, but it was new to me. I had grown up a bean hater and so I came a little late to the beans-and-greens party. The combo was one of those culinary revelations that change the way you look at a food. Eating the dish on our way down the Jersey turnpike, I became smitten with barely wilted escarole mixed with soft cannellini beans and sweet slices of slivered garlic.
Back home, I set about mastering the dish, which luckily is easy to make at home. The escarole gets a quick dip in boiling water—30 seconds does it. Transfer the escarole to a colander and, when it cools, squeeze the excess water out. In a large sauté pan, cooked thinly sliced garlic with olive oil over medium-low heat to soften, but not brown, the garlic. Add the escarole, cooked cannellini beans, salt, pepper and some chicken broth if you have some on hand. Let the mixture cook together for about 10 to 15 minutes and it’s done. If it’s watery, up the heat for a few minutes to evaporate the excess liquid.
As I experimented, I branched out a little. I found I could:
- Substitute kale or chard for the escarole.
- A little lemon could add brightness, if I felt like it that day.
- My husband is particularly found of the sausage version, where you brown Italian sausage meat before sautéing the garlic. Set the browned sausage meat aside and add back with the beans.
- To make it a meal, mix with pasta or served with thick slices of garlic bread.
- You can go Mexican with black beans and some chipotle en adobo
- Or Mediterranean with chickpeas and spinach.
Good news is you can skip the drive to New Jersey and satisfy this craving at home.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
LittleBird “Stephanie Cooks” experiments for all of us and shares only the good results every Monday.