• Yield: Serves 4 as a side dish

  • Time: 15 minutes prep, 20 minutes cooking, 35 minutes total

Fleshy outer escarole leaves, too tough for salad, make a delicious "what-is-this?" side dish. Slowly wilted, the sturdy leaves fall into gorgeous, satiny folds with a long, earthy, sweet flavor. Don't be tempted to use the pale escarole hearts—they usually turn brown and lack sweetness; save them for salads. Good with fish, poultry, pork, or beef.


  • 1/2 to 3/4 pound dark green outer escarole leaves, limp and discolored spots trimmed

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or unsalted butter

  • The zest of 1 lemon (the filament-type)

  • Up to 4 tablespoons water

  • Salt


1. Wash the escarole leaves in several baths of cold water to remove every trace of grit. Tear the leaves into 3- to 4-inch lengths. Drain well, but don't spin dry.

2. Place half of the oil or butter, lemon zest, water, and escarole in a 3-quart sauté pan or 12-inch skillet. Sprinkle with salt. Cover and set on medium heat. As soon as the water begins to steam, uncover, then stir every 10 seconds or so until all of the leaves are uniformly wilted and vibrant, glistening green. If the water evaporates before the leaves are cooked, add a few more drops at a time, just enough to keep the escarole from frying. The bright flavor and texture depend on quick cooking in even, steamy heat, not boiling water.

3. Remove the shiny cooked leaves to hold on a warm plate while you cook the second batch. Add the remaining butter or oil, lemon zest, escarole, and water as needed. Cook as described above. Serve promptly, spooning the syrupy oil or butter that remains in the pan over the leaves. If the liquid is watery, not syrupy, raise the heat and simmer until it has some body.

Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers (W. W. Norton, 2002). Copyright 2002 by Judy Rodgers.