Utica greens, escarole sauteed with peppersEscarole, peppers, bread crumbs, and coconut bacon combine to make this unusual side dish that’s native to upstate New York. This recipe could also be called Two Worlds Colliding, when a work trip is followed by free escarole.

I recently traveled to Utica, New York to work for a museum client. Utica is midway between Albany and Syracuse at the edge of the Adirondack Mountains. The topography couldn’t be more different than San Diego. The weather was cold and crisp, there was snow on the ground, and the sun slowly set as we made the ninety-minute drive from Albany to Utica. Seeing the quality of the light, the geese flying in formation, and the towns full of brick buildings set along the river took me back to my childhood in Connecticut and driving up north to ski.gluten-free treats in my hotel roomMy hosts were incredibly gracious, filling my hotel room with gluten-free snacks, a bouquet of flowers, and plying me with gluten-free baked goods at every meeting. Like my home town in Connecticut, Utica is full of Italians. Talking food with them made me remember many boisterous dinners at the Martino’s. It was at these dinners I learned that sauce is properly called gravy (and confusingly, gravy is called sauce), how to pronounce mozzarella (drop the “a”), and generally how to eat until I cried uncle.

My host Tony extolled the virtues of a dish that’s unique to Utica, fittingly called Utica Greens. He says, “Scarola is the proper way to say it in Italian. In my East Utica neighborhood we pronounced it something like this : sca all.”

Escarole—a hearty, bitter green related to endive—is sauteed with plenty of cheese, proscuitto, bread crumbs, and Italian hot peppers. While I might have been able to eat around the meat, the bread crumbs made it a no-go. And that would have been the end of the story, except that the next day my friend Liz the Chef called. Did I want some escarole?

One of the oddly cool things about food blogging is that companies start sending you product samples to try, hoping you’ll write about them. In this case, Liz literally received a case of greens from Cut ‘n Clean Greens produce company. I took the escarole and some kale salad, and decided to have a go at renovating Utica Greens.

For the vegan version you’ll need to make coconut bacon from this recipe first.

Suitable for:
vegan, gluten-free, reduced-sugar diets

Not for:
low-sodium or migraine diets

Have you ever had a greens dish like this? Do you have a favorite regional dish? Share your memories in the comments.

Utica Greens | Gluten-free and vegan

Utica greens

Escarole cooked with bell peppers, gluten-free breadcrumbs, and vegan bacon. A regional dish from upstate New York.
4 from 1 vote
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings

Ingredients
  

Greens

  • 1 cup bacon (coconut) divided
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
  • 5 cloves garlic peeled and minced
  • 1-1/4 tsp red pepper flakes divided
  • 1 bell peppers red, large, cored, seeded, and sliced into strips
  • 12 ounces escarole pre-washed and chopped

Topping

  • 1 slice bread (gluten-free) toasted until very dry, torn into pieces
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 clove garlic peeled
  • 1 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 1 tsp basil (dried)

Instructions
 

  • Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a cast-iron (or oven-proof) skillet until shimmering. Add the garlic and hot pepper flakes and saute 30 seconds.
  • Add the peppers and saute 2-3 minutes.
  • Add half the coconut bacon and then the escarole (the pan will be very full). Put on the lid and cook for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes as the escarole wilts.

Topping

  • Put the topping ingredients, including the remaining coconut bacon, in the food processor. Pulse until everything is uniform fine crumbs.
  • Turn on the broiler and place the rack just below it. When the escarole is nicely cooked, taste the dish. Add a little salt or more hot pepper flakes if it needs it. Sprinkle the topping evenly across the pan and broil for 3-5 minutes until golden brown. Serve at once.

Notes

Per serving:
  • 147 calories
  • 9 g fat
  • 1 g cholesterol
  • 44 mg sodium (may be higher, depending on coconut bacon and bread content)
  • 81 mg potassium
  • 8 g carbohydrate
  • 2 g fiber
  • 3 g sugars
  • 1 g protein
  • 3 Weight Watchers Points Plus
You can use 4 slices of prosciutto if you eat meat. Chop those up and start sautéeing them before adding the garlic. If you cannot find pre-bagged escarole, then weigh it at the store to get just under a pound. Since the escarole is a bitter green, you need to have enough bell pepper in the dish to balance it with sweetness. This was delicious over cooked pasta with some mozzarella-style Daiya cheese. If you eat dairy, stir in 1/4 C. of parmesan before putting on the crumb topping. I hear it's also used as a topping for hot sandwiches (Italian beef or sausage); it would be very good on top of eggplant or chicken parmesan too.