Side Suggestions

Time to firm up the menu for Thanksgiving day. I’m serving pork tenderloin with a pomegranate sauce instead of turkey, but I do like to include stuffing and mashed potatoes as nods to tradition.  Both these sides are soft, beige foods, so I need to add color and crunch with the other sides.

One thing  I really strive for is balance and contrast on the plate.  No tone-deaf meals where everything is uniform in color, richness and texture. I also dislike meals where your plate looks like something off the NFL training table.  Volume doesn’t equal abundance.

Yesterday at the supermarket I saw this beautiful, glistening head of escarole.photo

I’m a big believer in making frequent trips to the supermarket to see what looks fresh. That goes against conventional wisdom that suggests you shop only once a week with a list to avoid impulse purchases.  Sorry, but impulse buying is essential to creating great meals. You have to be flexible and ready to buy what’s fresh and plan a meal around it.

Escarole, for example, was nowhere on my Thanksgiving horizon until I saw this gorgeous stuff. Apparently the escarole crop is coming in mighty fine. So no tired old green beans or brussel sprouts at Casa Renfield.  We’re going to have sautéed escarole with our pork. What I really like about escarole is that it holds its shape much better but cooks nearly as quickly as spinach.

My trial preparation was simple:  I sauteed cleaned, rough-chopped escarole in good quality olive oil (a few tablespoons is plenty) over medium high heat until it began to wilt, turning frequently. (This is not the time to step away from the stove, folks.) Depending the size of your pan, (a wok works great for bulky greens, BTW) you might have to work in batches, but even if you’re doing several heads of escarole, this should only take  5-7 minutes.  When the escarole has wilted, reduce the heat to medium and add 3 tablespoons of good quality vinegar, such as a Champagne vinegar or a white wine one. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add slightly more vinegar, if needed. Continue cooking until escarole is soften but not mushy—maybe another five minutes or so. Right before service, stir in two tablespoons of unsalted butter.

This simple dish was a hit, with two of my three children asking for seconds. It’s tangy but not sharp because the wine vinegars have a sweetness to them and the butter brings out the bitterness of the escarole. It was nicely balanced, I thought.  Check it out at your supermarket and let me know what you think. If you’ve never tried escarole before, you may be pleasantly surprised.  And it was inexpensive.  This large head of escarole was only $1.99!

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