A photo of a plate of braised escarole & cannellini beans

Escarole + Cannellini Beans

Saturday’s start to the day was pretty chilly. The birds must have been sleeping in since the usually busy feeders in my yard were unoccupied.

The nip in morning air got me thinking about what to make to herald the arrival of cooler weather. Vegetable, French onion or lentil soup? Maybe. Chili? No, there’s some in the freezer. Nothing in the fridge or pantry gave me that aha moment.

When that brain and palate stalemate happens, I seek answers in one of my happy places: The grocery store. Since I’m a list maker for pretty much everything, food shopping needs are written out, but there are always unexpected items that find their way into the cart.

How about you? Does the thought of roaming the aisles fill you with fun, adventurous thoughts or dread? I hope it’s the former.

Scanning the rainbow colors in the produce section for some inspiration, my eyes fall on a blast from the past: Escarole. The light bulb goes off and I instantly know what will be the perfect the dish – braised escarole with cannellini beans.

My nana’s garden always had it. Aunt Gene reminded me the outer green leaves were usually combined with cannellini beans to make soup or the braised version and the tender yellowish inner pieces for salad. My mom used it in soup or sometimes sautéed it with a little olive oil and garlic for a side dish.

Also known as broad-leaved endive, it’s in the chicory family and while it has the texture and look of lettuce, it isn’t lettuce. A great source of dietary fiber, escarole is rich in vitamins A, K, C and folic acid, and has essential minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, sodium, manganese, zinc, phosphorus and selenium.

The word is derived from the French word “chicorée,” which in turn comes from the Latin word “cichorium.” Its original meaning was “wild chicory,” a type of bitter green that grows in Europe and North Africa.

Gaius Plinius Secundus (23/24-79 AD), called Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, naturalist, philosopher, and naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, mentions escarole in his encyclopedic Naturalis Historia (Natural History), which became an editorial model for encyclopedias.

Some people believe that this vegetable gave rise to the word salad because it was tossed with oil and vinegar before being served at Roman banquets during the time of Augustus Caesar (63 BC – 14 AD).

Beloved in southern Italy and Sicily, as immigrants settled throughout the eastern U.S., its popularity grew and added to the melting pot of American cuisine.

On November 21, with Rollies Mexican Patio Chef/Owner Mateo Otero, you’ll cook dishes he makes for family and friends that aren’t on the restaurant menu: Sonoran Style Korean Kalbi Short Ribs have his spin using Mexican beer and chiltepin in the marinade; Red Chili Nopalitos topped with Queso Fresco and for dessert, Caramelized Banana and Marzipan Crumbles Nachos – multiple layers of deep fried flour tortillas with cinnamon sugar, ice cream and marzipan crumbles.

Just 4 seats left in Cooking with the Wildcats – Food & Football with Coach Ricky & LaMonte Hunley. Spend Friday evening talking football and cooking along with Ricky and LaMonte, who know their way around the kitchen like they did the football field. On the menu: Lemon and Wine Marinated Baked Salmon; Bok Choy Salad with Strawberry, Pear, Apple, Jalapeño and Sesame Seeds; Sautéed Spinach; and Key Lime Pie.

It’s time to think about baking! On December 3, it’s Take & Bake: Almond Biscotti with Certified Executive Chef and Slow Food Southern Arizona Chapter President Barry Infuso. We’ll start the morning with a hot beverage that’ll be perfect for dunking some already made twice-baked cookies. You’ll make and take home dough ready for the oven that’ll yield about 120 cookies.

Senae Thai Bistro Chef/Owner Dee Buizer’s December 8 Exploring Thai Cuisine class is sold out.  

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s time to savor Panettone, the Italian sweet bread showing up on store shelves. Made months in advance, preservatives keep it soft. Instead of buying it premade, on December 10, join Certified Executive Chef Barry Infuso and learn to make and bake it in a paper bag, proving fresh is best. With flavors so amazing, you’ll never purchase it readymade again. Light and fluffy, buttery and chock full of dried fruits, the yeast-leavened, mouth-watering bread is often thought of as dessert. You’ll make enough dough to bake four 1 pound breads to keep or give as gifts.

On December 12, El Rustio Owner/Chef Juan Almanza’s Get the Más Out of Masa class has the hardest part – making the masa – already done. You’ll have fun pressing tortillas for Enchilada en Tomatala (tomato sauce) and Enchilada with Red Sauce; making Sopes (also known as picadita, originating in central and southern Mexico) and Gorditas (masa stuffed with meat or other fillings); and cooking three filling options: Chicken with veggies, border-style shredded beef with potatoes and veggie calabacitas con queso, as well as accompanying salsas and a variety of garnishes.

News & Notes
Friday-Sunday, Tucson Tea Company celebrates the opening of its store at Park Place Mall, 5870 E. Broadway Blvd. #310, from 11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m., offering unique small-batch and herbal tea locally blended with high-quality loose leaf teas from around the world, including organic and fair-trade.

Saturday, it’s Hockey & Hops with the Tucson Roadrunners, starting at 4 p.m. at the Tucson Convention Center, 260 S. Church Ave. $50 includes 12 drink tickets, commemorative glass and game ticket. Participating breweries: Barrio Brewing Co., BlackRock Brewers, Buqui Bichi Brewing, Button Brew House, Crooked Tooth Brewing Co., Dillinger Brewing, Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Ten55 Brewing Company and Voodoo Ranger. Click here for the details.

Next Sunday, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Urban Grove, 550 W. Orange Grove Rd., Arizona Winery Tours presents Chef Devon Sanner and Wilhem Vineyard’s winemaker with a three-course dinner and wine pairing starting with an hors d-oeuvre and sangria reception. Cost: $139 per person, including tax and gratuity. Click here for more information and reservations.

David Solorzano has joined Agustin Kitchen, 100 S. Avenida del Convento #150, as executive chef.

Seven Cups Tea House, celebrating its 20th anniversary, is now open from 11 a.m.-6:00 p.m. at their new home, 2510 E. Fort Lowell Rd. They’re known worldwide for their high-quality Chinese teas directly from tea makers. Be sure to go next door to Gallery of Food’s bodega for Chef Kristine Jensen’s food and pick up lots of local produce and goodies.

Wishing you joy in the kitchen,

Braised Escarole + Cannellini Beans
Yield: 2 servings

2 – 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling
1 onion, finely diced
3 – 4 garlic cloves garlic, peeled and minced
¼ – ½ teaspoon red chili flakes
1 head escarole, cored, halved lengthwise and chopped
½ cup vegetable broth
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Parmesan cheese shavings for garnish

1. Before washing, core escarole, cut in half lengthwise, then chop in same size pieces to ensure even cooking. Wash and dry. A salad spinner is helpful.
2. In a Dutch oven set over medium heat, heat olive oil until shimmering then add onion, salt and pepper. Cook until starting to brown, 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring about 30 seconds, then add broth. Turn heat to medium-low. Add escarole, cover and cook 6-8 minutes until just wilted, stirring occasionally. Add beans, stir to combine and cook uncovered about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and add Parmesan cheese, stirring to combine. Check and adjust seasoning if needed.
3. Transfer to serving bowls, garnish with Parmesan cheese shavings and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with crusty bread.

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