Monday, 9 February 2015

Sizzling Salad!

Scarola Ripiena di Pomodori Secche, Olive, Capperi & Mollica, Gratinata in Padella
Escarole, Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Olives, Capers & Breadcrumbs, Oven-Baked in the Pan


Sure, salads are nice- but in the Winter, when it's cold and nasty outside? Who wants to eat a salad then? Well... I did this evening! Nice and piping hot- straight from the oven and satisfying and tasty as can be!

I bought this beautiful, big head of escarole on Saturday, after Nina, my favorite market vendor, told me how she cooks hers with olives, anchovies and capers- something I had neither tried nor heard of. And to me it sounded terrific! BUT... I couldn't go and make something that she and many others make all the time in Italy, could I? Nope! I had to invent something of my own!

But Nina- it was your inspiration that made me do it!

I have to admit that I was totally surprised, and most pleasantly so, with how wonderful this turned out! It was basically very simple to make, though a little tricky at times, but so worth the trouble in the end!

A very light and yet satisfying supper- and absolutely different to the same-old, same-old Winter dishes!


Apart from the escarole, all I needed was about 1 cupful of bread crumbs, 4-5 sun-dried tomatoes, 1 shallot, 5-6 olives, a tablespoon of capers, a little Parmesan and some good olive oil. Oh- and 2 frying pans with lids to prepare it in!


As with most greens, as it cooks, the escarole wilts down and reduces in size- which is why I started off with a large frying pan and then transferred it to the smaller one later. But, being as I neither added nor drained away any liquid during cooking, all of the flavor remains packed right in there- along with all of those yummy seasonings for the filling!


Some of the bread crumbs crisp-up and become delicious on the outside, some of them soak up the moisture and flavor of all those goodies on the inside... and the result is just simply terrific! I'm so glad I thought of adding them!


Before you get started, turn on the oven to get it nice and hot, halve and stone the olives and thinly slice the sun-dried tomatoes and the shallot.


Fry the shallot, capers, olives and sun-dried tomatoes in a little olive oil until the shallot becomes translucent and everything begins to develop a good aroma. Then set them to one side and set the escarole into that flavorful oil, before you get ready to add the filling.

The escarole needs to be washed and turned upside-down to drip dry for a while before you do this, but should still be nice and moist enough for it to cook in its own juices.


Sprinkle the filling in between the leaves nice and evenly and season with just a little salt, but plenty of pepper. Those ingredients are already nice and salty and you have the Parmesan cheese yet to come- so keep that in mind!


Squeeze the leaves in, so that they are all trapped beneath the lid and pop it back onto the stove top, covered, for around 5 minutes. You will here it bubbling and sizzling away- but keep that lid on nice and tight and resist the temptation to take a peek! You want to keep the steam that builds up tightly trapped, to cook the escarole and to get it softening and wilting down.

After 5 minutes, simply flip the pan upside down and catch the escarole in the lid, like this. Now, drain off any excess water and turn the escarole back, right-side-up... into a smaller frying pan.


Now, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese, add a little more pepper and a nice drizzle of olive oil and then fold those leaves in on themselves and get them trapped beneath the lid of the smaller pan. This is a little tricky, but the leaves will be soft enough now for you to fold over.

Here's a tip for you- fold over one side first and then trap that side with the lid- then use a wooden spoon to tuck in the other leaves, bit by bit, until you get them all inside. Now, pop the pan back onto the heat and let more steam build up again, so that you can press the leaves down, nice and tight and compact.


After about 5 minutes, you can take off the lid and transfer the pan to a hot oven. If your frying pan has a plastic handle, like mine, then wrap it in aluminum foil to protect it and you will be fine.

I added a last drizzle of olive oil before baking it at 180°C for 10-15 minutes, until it was golden and brown... like this!


I carefully slid a wooden spatula underneath it, all the way around, to let in a little air, as there will be a bit of "suction" going on in the pan, due to the moisture of the escarole- but once you see that it slides away from the base, you can place a plate on top, flip it over- and then back onto a serving dish and straight to the table!


The great thing is that because of the sweetness of the shallots, the mild bitterness of the escarole is perfectly balanced- and the olives, capers and sun-dried tomatoes ad such a depth of flavor that it really turns into something terrific!


Not to mention the bread crumbs and Parmesan- oh my! Go grab a knife and fork already... and enjoy!

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