Here is a dish that brings together all the mutlicultural flavors that make up the area of Italy known as Naples. This city was ruled by the Spanish, the Greeks.the Italians, the French, and others and each group left its mark on the city’s architecture, style, and cuisine. A land of garden treasures,with the gifts from the sea and the mountains, help make this Italian regional food so full of bold and striking flavors. One of the most popular vegetables in the area is Escarole..or as it was called in my home, “Scharole'”.It was eaten as a side dish, chopped with garlic and oil, or with anchovies, breadcrumbs, hot pepper, raisin and pignoli. It found its way in many soups, notably the Minestra Maritata( Grandma’s meatball soup), or with beans in the famously popular ‘Scarole and beans…This Baroque filled plate stars all of Naples’ finest ingredients…pecorino romano, garlic, raisin, pignoli, anchovy, San Marzano tomatoes, good olive oil, Gaeta Olives(make sure you are using CURED black olives, not ones packed in brine), ground meat and soaked Italian bread..all served over Naples’ popular Pasta Secca…or dried pasta…in this case,
Start this escarole dish with a cleaned head of ‘scarole. To accomplish this, you must open the head up without breaking any leaves off. In a large bowl 1/2 filled with cold water submerge the escarole head stem side up.
For some reason, more so than any other fresh vegetable I have cooked with, escarole captures an ungodly amount of grit, sand, dirt deep within its green and white crevasses. You must let this sit for 15 minutes, then in a colander, rinse the head under running cold water. Empty the bowl, you will see the sand and dirt in it. Fill it back up 1/2 way, and repeat this process 3 times. Maybe 4. Give it a final rinse. Then, in a large pot of salted
water, bring it up to a boil then place the escarole in it stem side up and bring to a low boil. Cook this for a good
Now let this cool in the colander for about 15 minutes. While
it is cooling, let’s make the filling…a celebration of Naples’ best ingredients. The choice of the ground meat is up to you…veal is my preference, then pork, lastly beef. This dish is called in the Napoletana dialect, I MUCILLI, meaning little kittens and you stuff the whole head in the center with the leaves, then tie it all up. My version is more like Eastern European Stuffed Cabbage, par cooked leaves, turned into individual rolls that are baked in sauce….but we call it Stuffed “Scharole”.. For 1 head of escarole which makes about 20 bundles, use 1/2 lb.ground meat, 1/3 cup grated Locatelli Romano, 1/8 cup raisins, 1/8 cup pignoli, 1 finely minced garlic clove, 1 tsp.red wine, 2 slices of bread, soaked in water and squeezed dry, 2 eggs, beaten, 1/8 cup chopped pitted Gaeta olives,
1 anchovy filet, 1/8 fresh chopped parsley, 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, and 1/2 tsp. chili pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp. salt.
Mix this all together well and let it sit for 10 minutes.
you will need 1 lb of cut ZITI, cooked till al dente. Best to make this after the Stuffed Escarole have finished cooking. While you are waiting for the escarole to relax in it’s sauce, just make the macaroni as normal, drain well, make sure it’s, as always, al dente!
Why are we letting this sit? Flavor melding, it give a chance for the ingredients to give up some of their essential oils and
makes for a tastier end result.
Now take the cooled head of escarole and hold it by the stem, gently, with a knife, cut around the core to release the leaves.
lay them out on a flat clean surface and add about 1 tbs. of the mixture to the stem end of the leaf, then roll them up tuckingthe sides in on the way. Lay them into a large oiled deep pan. Continue till you are done. When you are done rolling the “mucilli” bundles, pour some olive oil over them, then 1/2 cup of white wine or stock, then 2 cans of crushed San Marzano tomatoes. A little salt, pepper, 1 clove of garlic, a sprinkle of oregano,and a shake to the pan. Cover and bring it to a boil , then lower to a simmer and let cook for 40 minutes on a lowflame. This will further soften the escarole and let all the flavors get happy. You can also bake this in a 350 degrees F oven, tightly covered for 1 hour 15 minutes, just check mid way thru that the liquid isn’t drying out.
The mucilli will soak up some of the sauce,not an overly liquid dish when it’s finished, great concentrated flavors…important tip here…DON’T SERVE IT IMMEDIATELY.
Let it sit for about 15 minutes. Serve 3 of the mucilli over a pasta portion, ziti my preference…that has been tossed withpecorino, olive oil and black pepper…pour some of the tomato over it as well…If you are looking for a more authentic Italian dining experience, dress the pasta with some of the sauce and serve first, then have the stuffed escarole rolls as a “secondo”. (I will depart from authenticity right here..the dish is much better all served together, imho).
Just an afterthought…the reason I like the veal the best is because it’s so very mild that it really tastes like the sauce through and through and allows the ingredients in the filling to be stars of the show as well. Purely my taste buds. Another postscript here…the most “authentic” or traditional stuffed escarole contain no meat..it’s pretty much the same ingrdients I’ve used but..no meat. Feel free to make them that way for a vegetarian/meatless dish…it’s very delicious either way. Classify mine Italian-American Napoletana. There’s a mouthful!! HappyCooking!!