Can someone please tell me why it’s so dang hard to find escarole in this town? All winter long I’ve kept an eye peeled for this most versatile (and most Italian) green, to little avail. In fact, I must confess a wee sin: When I wrote about escarole soup a while back, I ended up using a leafy endive, which is botanically practically the same thing, but still. There, I feel better getting that off my chest.
Anyway. Ever since last month’s visit to Taverna Santi, the memory of my first course has haunted me ever since. Creamy white beans. The acerbic tang of braised escarole. The sun-bright note of preserved lemons. And shrimp — nuff said. I knew this was a dish I would fold into my own repertoire.
Except, dammit, no escarole. And yet, to a degree that amazed me this year, an abundance of dandelion greens. Big, toothy spears of the stuff, everywhere I looked. Even frickin’ Bell Market is carrying the stuff, and they barely carry normal groceries.
I like dandelion greens, a trait I apparently share with my maternal grandmother. (She passed when I was still an infant, so all my knowledge of her is hearsay.) Grandma Mary like dandelion green sandwiches, a snack I have yet to reproduce. But I like them braised, that’s for sure.
Yet they can be fairly intensely bitter, even for a bitter lover like me. This is why bland, white beans make such a fabulous counterpart.
I’ve made this a couple times now, both warm and chilled, and it’s a winner of a dish. I’d suggest making the salad well ahead and chilling; the flavors marry well and it keeps its form better if you choose to get fancy and whip out the ring molds. And you know you want to.
This is also another of my typical "recipes" — I can’t promise precision nor perfection. Rather, this is another algebraic equation with very forgiving variables. Where Santi used ginormous broad beans, I used smaller runner cellini beans from Rancho Gordo, which I adore. And while I would have very much loved to use escarole, as did Santi, the dandelion greens certainly made the flavor of this dish pop with bright bitterness.
But maybe, someday, I’ll have the opportunity to make this with escarole.
White bean and dandelion green salad with preserved lemon, red pepper flake and shrimp
Inspired by a dish at Taverna Santi
2 c. white beans, cooked
escarole dandelion greens
A few cloves of garlic, sliced or minced
1/4 to 1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped
Large pinch red pepper flake
1 lb. 16-20 count shrimp, shelled and deveined
Very good olive oil
Clean and dry the greens, and chop to 1" lengths. In a wide skillet, saute the garlic until translucent, then add the greens with a tablespoon or so of water or stock, toss, and cover. Cook the greens until thoroughly wilted but not completely cooked down, approx. 10 minutes. Let cool.
In a large bowl, combine the greens, beans, half the preserved lemon and red pepper flake, drizzle with olive oil and toss to combine. Add more lemon as well as salt and pepper to taste. Let rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours, chilling if you intend to leave out for more than an hour.
Just before serving, broil or grill the shrimp just long enough for them to plump and take on coral-pink color on the sides; they should still be rare in the centers, and will continue to cook through as they rest. Form a nest of the bean salad mixture in the center of a salad plate, using a ring mold if you want a more formal presentation. Arrange 3-4 shrimp around or on top of the salad, and drizzle with more very good olive oil. Serves 6.
One year ago today … Bourbon and chocolate made a perfect pairing.