As much as I love to cook, there are just some things I just don’t make as good as Grandma Isabella, as far as my sons are concerned. My son Joseph even says that my chilled espresso does not taste the same as his grandmothers. That drives me crazy! I use the same coffee, and make it with the drip method as she does, but Joseph insists, it’s just not the same. It’s not like I’m looking to compete, because Grandma Isabella is a great cook. but as far as my sons are concerned, whatever recipe I make of hers does not taste the same. They are my ultimate taste testers. And I can’t win.
Over the years I’ve watched her cook and she never measures a thing. My son Michael wrote down a bunch of her recipes and they all have a bit of this and a bit of that. She does it all by eye and experience, the way it should be done. But try and copy it and you just fall short of Grandma Isabella’s magic.
This recipe of escarole and beans are my son’s ultimate comfort food. And when I made it for them they said, “it doesn’t exactly taste like grandmas”. I guess there are some things you just can’t duplicate. Maybe it’s the oil she uses. Maybe it’s the type of bean. I think it’s the whole experience of being over grandma’s house and the way she dishes out her meals with love. You can’t duplicate that.
I know there are some things that I make that they tell me no one makes it the way I do. So I guess I’ll have to be happy with whatever I have. I’m ok with that. But it still doesn’t stop me from trying.
Another one of her signature dishes that my son’s love, as I do, is her zucchini fritters. It’s a simple combination of shredded zucchini mixed in a batter of flour, water and eggs with a hint of garlic powder and plenty of fresh basil. I tried making it. Not the same. I’ll have to tap my son for the recipes again and keep on trying, but something tells me it just will not be the same.
That is what true home cooking is really all about. You can follow recipes but in order to be a great cook you just need to add your own touches to it. There are certain boundaries you need to follow, but for the most part, cooking is creating something all your own. And great cooking only comes with time and experience.
The secret of this dish is to saute the escarole long enough to break down the potatoes and beans so you have sort of a mash surrounding the vegetable. You should still have little chunks of potatoes but most of their mass should be broken down into the escarole. When it gets to this consistency it is ready. It also taste better when it is not too hot. And the next day, as with a lot of Italian food, it gets even better.
Scarola e Fasoli
- 2 heads of escarole
- 1 can red kidney beans, drained
- 3 medium potatoes
- 6 Italian canned peeled tomatoes, chopped
- 4-5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
- salt & pepper
Cut the potatoes in half and with the peels on place them in a small pot and cover with water. Cook the potatoes till tender, about 25 minutes. Drain, peel, and cut each half into eights. Set aside.
Wash the escarole well. I soak them in the sink full of water and change the water at least 3 times to remove the dirt and grit. Remove the bottom core and cut the head into thirds.
Place escarole in a large pot with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook till tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a large saute pan heat the olive oil and cook the garlic for 1-2 minutes over low flame. Add the chopped tomatoes and basil and simmer on medium flame for about 5 minutes. Season with salt.
Add the potatoes, beans and cooked escarole. Sautee on medium high heat, stirring occasionally, till most of the moisture evaporates and the potatoes break down, about 12 minutes.
As your stirring the escarole break up some of the potatoes with your spoon. Season with salt and pepper.
Just before serving drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top. This dish is best eaten slightly cooled.