A traditional Italian-American dish that originates from Utica in Upstate New York, featuring escarole, prosciutto, pickled hot peppers, and garlic.
The History of Utica Greens
In Central New York, about 60 miles east of Syracuse lies the smaller city, Utica. The city of Utica has a diverse immigrant population, and the blending of the many unique cultures and traditions have resulted into some seriously amazing regional cuisines, which includes tomato pie, chicken riggies, and of course, Utica Greens.
Utica Greens were not originally chef-prepared restaurant fare, it was the creation of frugal home cooks, making do with what they had on hand. The Italian American dish, features garden-grown escarole, and pantry staples such as pickled cherry peppers, olive oil, chicken stock, breadcrumbs, and cheese.
While the dish was well known and loved home-cooked comfort food, it was popularized by Joe Morelle. In the late 1980s when Joe put them on his menu at the Chesterfield Restaurant in Utica.
In the early 1980’s Joe Morelle worked as a chef at Grimaldi’s Restaurant, a favorite local dining spot that has since closed. During Joe’s time at Grimaldi’s greens were served as a seasonal special. Joe watched as the head chef made them, and begun working on his own version.
In 1988 when Joe started at Chesterfield’s, he put his greens on the menu as a regular appetizer. Joe’s version of Greens was put on the menu as Greens Morelle and were an immediate hit
In 2007 Rachel Ray featured a mash-up of chicken riggies and Utica greens called Chicken Riggies and ‘Scarole with Soul. The feature on her Food Network show introduced two of Utica’s most beloved recipes to a national audience, further popularizing the dish.
If you have never had escarole before, it looks a lot like lettuce but is actually more closely related to endive. The flavor of escarole is somewhat similar to that of a radish. Escarole is usually very sandy and gritty, and should be washed thoroughly and carefully. If you want to skip washing and cutting Wegmans sells cleaned and cut escarole in a 15-ounce bag, which is the perfect amount for this recipe.
How to Make Utica Greens
Utica Greens are just one of those dishes you can not go wrong with, I am pretty sure the recipe is foolproof. There are 4 easy steps:
- Blanche the escarole
- Saute the garlic and onion over medium heat in an ovenproof skillet
- Add the blanched greens, chicken stock, chopped peppers, prosciutto, breadcrumbs, and cheese to the garlic and onion.
- Top with additional cheese and bread crumbs.
- Place casserole under the broiler for 4 to 6 minutes until brown.
Escarole can have a tendency to be bitter, but blanching the greens before sauteing helps to mellow the flavor and results in a tender leaf that is not bitter at all.
If you want less heat in the finished dish, reduce the amount of cherry peppers, but this dish is typically pretty spicey.
There is no wrong way to serve this dish. Utica greens can be a side dish, main dish or appetizer. I personally love making a meal of Utica greens. I think they are best served with a loaf of hot crusty Italian bread and a glass of Riesling.
- 1 bag escarole, chopped, fresh (15 ounces)
- 4 tablespoons butter, unsalted
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup hot pickled cherry peppers, chopped
- 1/2 cup prosciutto, diced
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup Pecorino-Romano cheese, freshly grated
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 teaspoons oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- Bring a 5-quart stock pot filled with 1 tablespoon sea-salted water to a boil. Add escarole and cook until tender (about 1-2 minutes).
- Reserve about 2 tablespoons each of breadcrumbs and cheese for topping. Mix remaining breadcrumbs with cheese, oregano, and pepper.
- In a large ovenproof saute pan, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add cooked greens and chicken stock to the pan and stir to combine. Mix in chopped peppers, prosciutto, breadcrumbs/cheese mixture.
- Top with reserved breadcrumbs and cheese.
- Heat oven to broil.
- Place casserole under broiler for 4 to 6 minutes until brown, checking frequently.