Manest! The first dish I was formally taught how to make by my beloved Grandma Anne!
If you grew up Italian-American, I think it’s safe to say making a marinara is just second nature. I mean, no one really has to teach you that. You just saw it so many times.
This dish, however, is a little off the beaten path and my Grandma Anne taught me how to make one day in her kitchen about 35 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. This is classic peasant cuisine and it was the first dish I ever made which may explain why I’m so obsessed with this style of cooking.
My Grandma Anne would make this beautifully cooked vegetable dish for my father many times. He would passionately eat it with crusty Italian bread, grated Italian cheese, and hot red pepper flakes. It’s a meal in itself.
I rejected the aroma of the manest as a child because the cabbage and beans was a little too intense for my young sense of smell and taste buds. But, considering my father seemed like he was in ecstasy every time he ate it…well …there must be something about this dish I thought.
I Finally tried it as a young teenager served with the proper accompaniments. I was hooked on it like a drug. Then Grandma Anne taught me how to make it in her apartment on Frederick Street. That was it for me…from that point on I wanted everything I made to be as good as Grandma Anne’s Manest!
At first glance, you may think this “manest” is similar or even almost the same as escarole & beans or “shcadole n’ beans” but it’s not. It has all the same ingredients except for two. Cabbage and pepperoni. And cabbage is 50 percent of the greens. The sweetness of the cooked cabbage and the savoriness and zestiness of the small amount of pepperoni added put this dish in a whole different category. In addition, escarole and beans is usually served more like a soup. The way we do this is more on the “dry” side with just “some” broth at the bottom of the dish. Top with some grated Italian cheese, red hot pepper flakes, and scoop it up with some crusty semolina bread, and you are in heaven. If you are concerned about pepperoni for health reasons, nowadays you can get nitrate-free naturally cured pepperoni. Yes, salt and fat are still present but that’s what helps make the dish taste great and we are only adding very little per serving.
To begin we are going to chop and passionately wash the escarole. Do not rush or cut corners with this process! Just cut off the small bottom stalk out of the escarole and chop the rest of the head into pieces that are 3-inch squares or so. All different sizes are fine but don’t go under three inches or add entire whole leaves. Sometimes the escarole is loaded with dirt and sand, so washing it is key. If you crunch on the sand while eating this dish it’s basically a deal killer. You might as well throw it out.
Place the escarole in a sterile sink or very large pot, fill with cold water and toss it around with your hands to shake any dirt and sand loose. Lift the greens from the water and place them in a large strainer. Now, flush the strainer with cold water moving the greens around until clean. No need to dry out the escarole. Just place it in the pot dripping wet.
Now for the savoy cabbage. Remove the stalk and any funky outer leaves. Chop up in 3-inch squares or so. Rinse well in a strainer. Add this to the pot.
On top of the greens add garlic, pepperoni, salt, pepper, olive oil, and water. Place on stove on medium heat, cover, and cook for about 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes the greens should have been reduced by almost half. At this point, with a large sturdy spoon, toss the contents of the pot by bringing up the greens from the bottom of the pot to the top. After thoroughly but gently tossing everything together continue to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes or so.
At this point, add the entire contents of the canned cannellini beans. Gently stir into the contents of the pot and cook for another 15 minutes or so.
When the cabbage is tender but still has an “al dente” type firmness to the center stalk portion of the leaf then the dish is done. We don’t want to overcook into “mush.”
This dish tastes best if it sits overnight in the fridge then reheated and served the next day if you have the time. If you want to serve the same day just make it early enough so it can sit at room temp for a few hours then reheat and serve.
Place the manest in your favorite platter leaving any excess broth behind. The platter should be mostly cooked greens with “some” broth on the bottom. Sprinkle with some grated cheese, hot red pepper flakes, and drizzle with a little olive oil. Serve with crusty Italian bread.
I would have a Pino Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc with this dish.
Thanks for visiting. I hope you enjoyed this post!
- Two large heads of escarole
- One large head of savoy cabbage
- 6-10 cloves of garlic smashed with the flat side of a large knife.
- 2 or 3 cans of Goya cannellini beans. Entire contents. Yes, juice and everything.
- About a cup or so of chopped pepperoni.
- ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly cracked sea salt or kosher salt to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 3 cups of water
- Crusty Italian bread
- Your favorite grated Italian cheese
- A light dry white wine to enjoy