Ahhh…Utica Greens! This one is unique! I just love local fare. Being born and raised in New Jersey (now an Upstate New Yorker) we have our share of local classics. But, Utica Greens is just one of those dishes that I just can’t get enough of. It’s such a delectable and different way to enjoy escarole, one of my favorite greens!
Back in the day, I used to have a little retreat just outside the southwestern area of the Adirondacks by Utica. Once, on a snowmobile excursion, we stopped at the Big Moose Inn in the Old Forge area for lodging and dinner. It was there I had my first taste of cooked escarole done the Utica way! I immediately started researching how to make this dish! It is a combination of escarole, breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto, cherry vinegar peppers, and simple seasonings all baked down into a savory, zesty, warm, crunchy salad! It is just out of the world!
This dish is right in line with the Italian-American peasant cooking that I love with maybe the exception of the imported prosciutto which could be a little pricey. I think a more inexpensive pancetta option would work well with this dish too.
Utica Greens is simple to make but as always, every ingredient we use must be the best, and methods and techniques are just as important. One of the secrets of this dish is to make your own homemade breadcrumbs from good-quality bread. Please do not omit this step!
So let’s begin. . .
The first thing we want to do for this dish is to prepare the homemade bread crumbs.
There is a specific bread I use for this dish. It originates from Hiedleburg Bakery, an excellent German bakery that I stumbled upon in Herkimer, NY. Their bread is just fantastic. I use either their french peasant bread or their white bread. Hiedleburg distributes to grocery stores all around the northeast so you can look for them in your local supermarket. However, any bakery-quality country-style loaf will do such as an Italian Panella or French baguet.
Cut bread into small cubes and let it sit out for a few days until all moisture is gone.
A quicker method would be to place the cubed bread on a baking sheet and leave them in the oven at 190 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour or so.
Once the bread is completely dried out, run it through a food processor until it turns into a coarse crumb mixture. Do not overmix into sand or sawdust. Just coarse crumbs.
Note there is no seasoning in the bread crumb. Just plain!
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prepare the escarole
Once we have our bread crumbs squared away we need to clean and prepare the escarole.
Escarole needs to be soaked in cold water and then rinsed well. In most cases, there is lots of sandy soil in between the leaves.
Chop off the bottom of the head where the stalk is and discard.
Now, holding the head firmly with one hand, start chopping it up into approximately three-inch squares by running the knife lengthwise and then across the head. We don’t want pieces that are much bigger than this or it will be difficult to serve.
Once your escarole is chopped up, place it in a bucket, large pot, or clean sink and fill with cold water covering the greens. Stir the chopped escarole around with your hand loosening any sand or dirt that is attached to the leaves.
Now gently pull the escarole out of the water leaving sand behind and place it into a large colander and rinse thoroughly. Let escarole sit in the colander and drain.
Grease the bottom of a 12” x 14” baking pan with extra virgin olive oil.
Spread your washed chopped escarole onto the baking pan. It should be piled up about 3 inches high or more.
Sprinkle a dash or two of salt over the leaves. Do the same with a liberal amount of black pepper, breadcrumbs, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Now lay out the prosciutto flat on top of the breadcrumbs and cheese.
Spread your sliced cherry peppers around the top of this dish making sure you place most of them on top of the prosciutto pieces. I like doing this so the prosciutto does not get too dried out and crispy during baking.
At this point, drizzle olive oil over the top and place in the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes or when escarole has shrunk to about one inch on the tray and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.
Remove from oven. Let rest for about 15 minutes and serve warm.
I hope you enjoyed this post! Thank you for visiting my blog!
2 medium-sized heads of escarole
Just a dash or two of salt
1 tablespoon of black pepper
About 2 cups of breadcrumbs
1 cup of Parmigiano-reggiano
6 slices of prosciutto Di-Parma cut into bite-sized pieces
1 ½ cup of cherry vinegar peppers sliced
⅓ cup of olive oil