Sunday, November 13, 2011

There's something about leftovers

Deborah takes home a doggie bag...

The trees say late fall, the weather says late summer. 
Any Italian restaurant that fills their antipasto display table with vegetable dishes gets a giddy reaction out of me. I am reminded of the restaurants I have wandered into in Rome that showcase multiple tiers of cooked vegetable dishes one can choose from to start a meal Roman style. Bellisimo!

The restaurant Pesce Pasta on the upper west side of Manhattan was a place I knew nothing about, but being hungry I peeked in. When I saw the vegetable antipasto sitting out on a display table right by the front door I was sold.  Ordering a plate of sauteed greens in Italian restaurants is a must for me when I feast on pasta. This night I ordered the escarole, a leafy member of the endive family that is also used as a lettuce green. A HUGE portion arrived at the table, far more than my dining companions and I could consume, although we tried.  The remaining greens came home with me. How lucky!
Pesce Pasta's Escarole with Garlic

Whole nutmeg shown here in its shell.
This time of year as we inch towards Thanksgiving, I have gratins on my mind. They are hit-the-spot soulful preparations that can be quickly assembled and lovingly devoured hot out of the oven. This recipe for Escarole Gratin can be made from leftover sauteed greens like I had on hand or made with uncooked escarole that is blanched in boiling water for a few minutes until tender. The white sauce, or bechamel, is a classic technique that I frequently use. It is really easy to make and is a recipe worth learning as it is a good basic sauce to add a hearty richness to any vegetable preparation.

Escarole Gratin
2 Tbs. Butter
2 Tbs. flour
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
 2 cups of cooked escarole (either blanched or sauteed)
1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Add the flour and quickly whisk the two together. Pour in the milk and allow the mixture to come to a low boil. Continue to whisk to smooth out any lumps as the sauce begins to thicken. Add the nutmeg and salt and pepper. In a large bowl mix the thickened sauce with the cooked escarole and the grated cheese. Pour mixture into an oven proof dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top starts to turn golden. Serve immediately.

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