July 31, 2014 at 1:00 am

Bake, blanch or serve escarole raw

Escarole, which looks like lettuce, is actually a type of endive that mixes well with shallots and clove in Escarole Gratin. (Johnny Miller)

Although escarole looks like lettuce, it’s actually a type of endive, which accounts for its bittersweet and slightly peppery flavor. What makes the green such an asset in the kitchen is its versatility — escarole is sturdy enough to braise or bake until meltingly tender but equally delicious served blanched or raw and crisp.

Look for full heads with more tender, light-green center leaves than dark outer ones. The bunch should be smooth and blemish-free with no brown tips. Trim off the base to separate the leaves and wash under cold running water. Dry well, then wrap in several paper towels, seal in a bag and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Quartered heads can be brushed with oil and quickly grilled. Hardy outer leaves can be braised or chopped and used in stir-fries or sautés. Mix tender inner leaves with romaine to add flavor to a Caesar salad. Stir a couple handfuls of torn escarole into a soup or stew; it pairs especially well with white beans and sausage.

Escarole Salad with Crispy Shallots

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons white-wine or Champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
3 tablespoons diced peeled Granny Smith apple
1 large head escarole, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
2 celery stalks, cut into ½-inch pieces, plus ½ cup tender inner leaves

In a small skillet, heat oil and shallot over medium-high; cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer shallot to paper towels to drain and season with salt and pepper. Let oil cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, honey and apple. Slowly add oil from skillet, whisking until combined. Season with salt and pepper, then add escarole, celery and celery leaves. Toss to combine and top with shallots. Serves 6.

Per serving: 121 calories; 10 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 74 percent calories from fat); 9 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Bacon-and-Escarole Grilled Cheese

12 slices bacon (12 ounces)
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
8 slices sourdough bread
6 ounces sharp cheddar, sliced
½ small head escarole, trimmed and torn into bite-size pieces

In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, about 7 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off and reserve all but 1 tablespoon fat. In a small bowl, combine mustard and honey and spread on bread. Divide cheese and bacon among bread to make 4 sandwiches.

Place skillet over medium heat; in batches, add sandwiches and cook until bread is golden and crisp and cheese is melted, about 6 to 8 minutes, flipping halfway through and adding more bacon fat as needed. Open sandwiches, add escarole, close and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Per serving: 742 calories; 32 g fat (15 g saturated fat; 39 percent calories from fat); 81 g carbohydrates; 32 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Wilted Escarole with Walnuts and Blue Cheese

1 large head escarole
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
¼ cup chopped toasted walnuts
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
Fresh lemon juice (optional)

Cut 1 large head escarole into 1½-inch wedges, leaving base intact. In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium; add a few wedges and cook, turning, until escarole is wilted and light brown on all sides, about 3 minutes total. Season with coarse salt and ground pepper and transfer to a platter. Repeat twice with more oil and remaining escarole. Top with ¼ cup each chopped toasted walnuts and crumbled blue cheese; drizzle with fresh lemon juice, if desired.

Serves 4.

Per serving: 156 calories; 14 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 81 percent calories from fat); 5 g carbohydrates; 4 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Warm Escarole with Olives and Tomato

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large head escarole, trimmed and torn into bite-size pieces
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons red-wine vinegar, to taste

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high. Add 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, ¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved, and 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved; cook until tomatoes are soft, about 2 minutes; transfer to a plate. Add 1 large head escarole, trimmed and torn into bite-size pieces, to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until escarole is wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with coarse salt and ground pepper, return olive mixture to skillet and stir in 2 to 3 teaspoons red-wine vinegar to taste. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Per serving: 102 calories; 8 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 71 percent calories from fat); 9 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Escarole Gratin

2 large heads escarole, trimmed and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into large pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a colander in a large bowl. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In 2 batches, cook escarole until tender, about 7 minutes, then drain in a colander, pressing with a spatula to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Cook shallot and garlic until tender, about 4 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Whisking constantly, add milk and cook, whisking, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and stir in escarole. Pour mixture into a 1-quart baking dish.

In a food processor, pulse bread until coarse crumbs form; transfer to a small bowl. Melt 1 tablespoon butter and pour over breadcrumbs, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Top escarole with breadcrumbs and bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serves 4.

Per serving: 183 calories; 9 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 44 percent calories from fat); 22 g carbohydrates; 7 g protein; 8 g fiber.

everydayfood@marthastewart.com