September is strange in Cancale this year. Instead of the glorious post-season weather I’ve grown to love more than summer, it has been chilly, blustery, wet—more like November, as my neighbors say along with their daily “Bonjours.”
The too-sudden temperature change is messing with my appetite. I’m not quite ready for the heartier foods of fall (please…no kale just yet…there will be long months to come of meals made with dark, leafy, winter greens), but all this cold and damp has me craving something hot, savory and satisfying, that’s still, somehow, light.
Escarole! The cool-weather green beautifully bridges the seasons with its spinach-soft leaves, crisp-tender stems, and hint of bitterness that’s milder than endive or radicchio. I found a huge head of the stuff at the local supermarket, cooked it up with garlic, capers, and raisins, topped it with some seared halloumi cheese* and…
That all makes it sound like some fancy, food-lover’s creation, when in all truth, it was just a one-pan meal that came together in about 15 minutes.
And you don’t even need escarole to make it! Dandelion greens, frisée salad, radicchio, and Swiss chard—even kale—will all work. I can find cheap halloumi cheese at a Turkish store in nearby Rennes, but if I were in the US (where halloumi is outrageously expensive), I’d have use queso blanco, an inexpensive Mexican cheese you can now find almost anywhere, which can also be fried. Or any other protein, really—the sautéed greens go with just about anything.
*Halloumi cheese is a Mediterranean “frying cheese” originally from Cyprus. The salty white blocks can be made from sheep, goat or cow’s milk. The high melting point of the cheese means it can be seared, or fried, in a pan without turning to goo.
Sautéed Escarole with Capers, and Crispy Garlic
½ large head escarole greens, leaves separated, rinsed and drained (about 10 cups of greens)
2 Tbs. raisins
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 8-oz. pkg. halloumi cheese or queso blanco, cut into 4 slices widthwise, then cut into 8 triangles
pinch red pepper flakes, optional
2 Tbs. drained capers
balsamic vinegar, optional
Place the raisins in a small cup, and cover with boiling water. Set aside to plump while preparing the rest of the dish.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Drop the escarole leaves into the pot. When the water returns to a boil, drain the leaves in a large colander. When cool to the touch, coarsely chop, if desired. (You should now have 4 cups/1 liter of greens. The escarole can be cooked up to 3 days ahead and stored in the fridge until ready to use.)
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the sliced garlic, and cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until the garlic slices are golden brown, stirring constantly. Remove the garlic from the oil with a slotted spoon, and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
Increase the heat under the skillet to medium-high. Add the halloumi cheese or queso blanco, and sear on each side 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside with the garlic.
Increase the heat once more to medium-high. Add the escarole to the pan, and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, if using. Sauté 4 to 5 minutes, or until the leaves turn a deeper green and any liquid has completely evaporated.
To serve: Place the seared cheese on the escarole, and sprinkle with capers, garlic, and the drained raisins. Serve immediately with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, if desired. Generously serves 2 for dinner or 4 as a side dish.