While many American families prepare their stomachs for another round of turkey demolition, Italians lay the groundwork for an equally exhausting culinary tradition—the Feast of Seven Fishes. I wait all year to graze on scungilli (sea snails), calamari, octopus, bacala (salted cod), crab, eel and shrimp all carefully prepared by my nonna. Although I enjoy a fresh, well-prepared piece of seafood as much as the next Long Islander, there are equally exciting (and far less complicated to prepare) other dishes that I anticipate as well. Escarole di Natale, or Christmas Escarole, is one such indulgence. My family moved to America from Avellino, Italy, in the ’70s bringing this Christmas tradition with them. Luckily it’s easy enough for me to carry on in future generations. Cooking for holidays can be overwhelming, but Escarole di Natale is a simple addition that won’t stress you out, stays true to Italian heritage and will have your guests rubbing their bellies with satisfaction. Nonna eats this rustic dish all winter with hearty, warm and crusty bread. Buon appetito!
Nonna’s Escarole di Natale
2 large heads of escarole, washed
3-5 cloves of garlic (depending on your tolerance), peeled and roughly chopped
4 pieces of Italian anchovies, finely chopped
1 golden delicious apple, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup Italian pignoli nuts (pine nuts)
1 cup Gaeta olives, pitted and rinsed
1/2 cup dried figs, chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
4 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Boil water in a large pot and reserve ½ cup on the side. Place escarole in pot of boiling water and cook until tender. Strain, but do not squeeze. In the same pot sautee garlic, anchioves, apple, walnuts, pignoli nuts, olives, figs and raisins all together on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add ½ cup of reserved boiling water and stir. When mixture comes to a boil, add cooked escarole. Season with salt and pepper and serve.