Humble, Beloved Escarole

Discover (or don't forget about) escarole and try this delicious escarole soup with turkey meatballs.

Think of escarole as the quiet child amid a throng of attention-seeking siblings: As its leafygreen brothers kale, arugula and radicchio have become fashionable health foods in recent years, escarole has remained largely unlauded.

Luckily, many of us with Italian grandmothers learned to love the strong-but-tender leaf anyway, thanks largely to a pleasant peasant soup made of cannelini beans plus escarole sautéed with olive oil and garlic that was a staple in many an émigré’s kitchen.

Indeed, with a broad leaf that holds its shape well when cooked, escarole is particularly well-suited for hot soups and side dishes—try it braised, wilted or sautéed. Its bold taste hovers between bitter and sweet, complementing other flavors (garlic, Parmesan and even lemon pair with it nicely) or adding kick to milder dishes (combine it with standard-issue greens for a salad with spark, for example).

Of course, like any green worthy of its name, escarole—a member of the endive family—is also a nutritional boon: It’s high in folate, vitamins A and C and potassium. When purchasing a bunch, look for firm, brightgreen leaves free of blemishes.

And because escarole’s growing period stretches well into the chillier season, the months ahead are the perfect time to give this humble leaf its chance—finally— to shine.

Escarole soup with turkey meatballs
(Serves 5)

For the meatballs:

20 ounces 99 percent lean ground turkey breast
¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
1 egg
¼ cup onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the soup:

8 cups fat-free chicken broth
1 head escarole, chopped
½ cup orzo
fresh pepper to taste


• In a large pot, heat the chicken broth over medium heat, covered.

• While the broth is heating up, in a large bowl combine all the ingredients for the meatballs.

• Using your hands, mix all the ingredients until well-combined.

• Roll mixture into small balls. (It should yield approximately 25 meatballs, 1-inch in diameter.)

• When the broth comes to a boil, drop in the meatballs. Add the orzo and chopped escarole. Add fresh pepper and cook about 10 minutes or until orzo is done.

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