Wish Upon A Dish: Escarole Torta

April 25, 2012

Escarole Torta

Let's talk about escarole. My uncle would rather not. Why? He calls it poor man food.

During the depression, my grandmother would feed the meat she could afford to the men in the house that held jobs. When the meat was gone the younger children ate only vegetables, pasta and beans for many, many years.

Today, those foods seem gourmet, but to immigrant children, if you ate scarole and beans 4x a week for 15 years, when you got a job, got married and had money, you ate steak.

I think my father missed most of the lean times, being the youngest and when my Mom learned to successfully cook all his favorite Italian dishes, and like every baby boomer of Italian descent, I ate lots of escarole.

I adore it. It's bitter and sweet at the same time, it has a good texture when cooked and does not turn to mush the way spinach will when cooked a long time, making it perfect for Scarole and Beans. Inexpensive and indestructible, I now know why it has stood the test of time.

Watching Lidia's Italy in America this morning reminded me that I had a head of escarole in my cooler. I had originally bought it to make a torta and I only hoped it was still in good shape. Escarole is one of those hardy vegetables, so a week in the crisper drawer probably did it no harm.
This torta made of a yeast dough and sauteed escarole is a staple in Italy and depending on which appellation you reside in, the ingredients change slightly. Some do it with raisins and bread crumbs, I have seen it prepared with pancetta, onions and Parmesan cheese but I chose the Sicilian way.......olives, capers, anchovy and pinoli (pine nuts).

I am using a small amount of vegetable lard in my crust but you can substitute olive oil.

If you want to make this a complete meal, remove the anchovy and olives, add eggs (like a frittata), leftover chicken, ham or pork and cheese.

I used a 10" paper plate to make the bottom crust, and rolled out a circle of 6" for the top. I tried to crimp the top crust to the bottom but the dough was not cooperating and I just pressed it over the top and kept my fingers crossed. It did separate but nothing leaked out, so I think I did OK.

Just tell yourself it's rustic and that's the way it goes......

This made up in flavor what it lost in appearance. Next time I will make a Pizza Rustica and use this dough. It has a wonderful flavor and texture.

The recipe below is posted as Marcella Hazan intended.

Escarole Torta
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
8 servings

For the dough:
* 2 2/3 cups unbleached flour
* 1 teaspoon salt
* Black pepper, ground fresh
* 1/3 package active dry yeast (or 1/3 teaspoon)
* 1 cup luke-warm water
* 2 tablespoons, lard, room temperature (or 3 tablespoons olive oil)

For the filling:
* 3 pounds fresh escarole
* salt
* 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
* 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
* 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
* 10 black Greek olives, pitted and cut into quarters
* 7 anchovy fillets, minced
* 3 tablespoon pinoli (pine nuts)

1. Dough can be made in a processor, a bread machine (stop before bake setting) or with a KitchenAide using the dough hook. Mix all the ingredients and knead for at least 8 minutes (remove from processor and knead by hand adding more flour or water to get a soft dough).
2. Shape the dough into a ball and put it into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with wrap and let it rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 375°.
4. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. Trim the escarole of any bruised or discolored outer leaves, then cut it into 2" long pieces. Soak them in a basin filled with cold water, scooping them up, emptying the basin, and repeating 3-4 times (escarole likes to hide soil in it's curly leaves).
5. Bring 3-4 quarts of highly salted water to a boil and drop the escarole in. Cook for about 10 minutes depending on the age of the vegetable. Drain it as soon as it is cool enough to handle, squeeze it gently to remove as much moisture as possible. Set it aside.
6.Put the olive oil and garlic in a large saute pan, turn on the heat to medium and cook the garlic, stirring, until tit becomes colored a light gold. Add the escarole, turning it over once or twice to coat it well. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 10 minutes. Add the capers, the anchovy and the pine nuts, and stir to incorporate. Taste and correct for salt, then pour the entire content into a bowl to cool.
7. When the dough has doubled, divide it into 2 unequal pasts, one twice the size of the other. Roll the larger piece into a circular sheet large enough to line the bottom and sides of the springform pan. It should come out approximately 1/4" thick. To simplify transferring this to the pan, roll out the dough on parchment paper.
8. Spray the pan with a release agent or butter. Cover the pan with the sheet of dough and up the sides. Work the dough to fit snugly at the crease and iron out any bulky parts.
9. Pour all the escarole filling into the pan and level it off with a spatula.
10. Roll out the remaining dough, laying it over the filling, covering it completely. Press the edge of the top sheet of dough against the edge of the bottom crust, making a tight seal all around, folding any excess dough towards the center.
11. Place on the uppermost rack of the preheated oven and bake until the torta swells slightly, and the top becomes colored a pale gold, about 45 minutes. When you take it out of the oven, unlatch the spring and remove the hoop. Allow the torta to settle a few minuted before loosening it from the bottom and transferring it to a serving platter. Can be served lukewarm or at room temperature.

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