Sauteed Scarola – Escarole

STOPPA DA BOOM-DIDDI-BOOM-DIDDI-BOOM!

It all started when I was around 14 years old and I was sitting around my living room on my mother’s plastic covered sofa and chairs with my friends. Richie “crazy legs” brought over his acoustic guitar and was strumming some “Doors” tunes. If I’m not mistaken, my friend Frankie “Meats” was also there with a guitar.  Mike Rizzo was playing “air drums” on his lap and I was sitting at my sister’s piano poking on some keys following along. Mike was a big Cream fan and Crazy Legs loved the Doors. Because I was playing the saxophone in band class at Dyker Height Junior High School I was listening to Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, Brazil 66 and Paul Mauriat. The closest thing to rock that I listened to was from The Monkees and Bobby Gentry and what my brother and sister listened to, (my sister was 13 years older than me and my brother preceded me by 7 years) Bill Haley and the Comets, and Simon and Garfunkel.

Crazy Legs and Mike were introducing me to the edgier groups of the time, Hendricks, Steppenwolf, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream. That afternoon one of us came up with the bright idea of forming a band. Mike and Crazy Legs never had any formal music training. I had a piano in the house and played mostly by ear. What ever formal training I had was on the saxophone, so I knew how to read music. The seed had been planted.

I told my mother and father we were forming a band and asked them if they would buy me an organ and amplifier. I’m sure they thought that being in a band would keep me out of trouble and figured it was a good investment. If they only knew. Mike Rizzo  picked up a used set of drums from some kid he knew at school and the formation of a group had begun.

In A- Gadda- Da -Vida by Iron Butterfly was the first song we practiced playing. It had everything….an organ intro that I learned how  to play by listening to the record, a simple repetitious rhythm,  and an organ and  drum solo. What more can you ask for?  We didn’t have any microphones early on so we didn’t concern ourselves with singing. We just played the music.  We roughly based the song on the album…as close as we could.

My parents let us use the basement for practice. We had a large open room and they thought no one would be able to hear us from down there. Yea, right! After about an hour or two of practice my grandmother would come down the steps as fast as her poor little feet would carry her, and it wasn’t until we finished playing a song that we heard her yelling, ” PEETA!!! STOPA DA BOOM-DIDDY BOOM-DIDDY-BOOM!!!! ” After that my grandmother would sit out on her outdoor porch when we practiced so the noise was tolerable. If my grandfather only knew the power we drew from some of the amplifiers we had he would have put a stop to it long, long ago.

We had different members in the band at any given time. Players we picked up from friends who knew someone who played an instrument. For the most part, practice was always in my basement. One afternoon after about two hours of blasting music, my neighbor, Rosemary, who was a real mellow young lady at the time, was banging at my back basement door trying to yell over the volume like a wild woman who just had about all she could take of our good music. We tried to turn the volume down, honestly. But it just sounded so much better at full throttle.

At some point we settled down to a functioning band and learned some songs. It was trial and error all along the way. We had a few sets of songs, a name, Keep Right, and we were ready for the big time. Maybe even get paid. The band wound up with myself on keyboards, Tommy Abatemarco on drums, Richie Anello on bass, John Gallo on guitar, and Gerard Gallucci and Mike Rizzo working strobe lights and heavy lifting. Our first gig was a block party in Staten Island on my sister’s block. She highly recommended us to her neighbors, sight unseen…or heard.

I’m not sure what my sister was expecting, but she remembered the days I played saxophone and tunes like “Love is Blue, and Spanish Flea”. She was not expecting what she got. We opened up with Born to Be Wild.  Man did we crank that song out. The vocals were perfect and we were right on spot. A few old people came over to us after the first song and asked us if we could turn it down. We were running on adrenalin now and couldn’t even understand what they were saying. Turn what down??  I saw my sister trying to explain to some of her neighbors that she thought I had a band like Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians.  Our second song was Jumping Jack Flash. The kids in the neighborhood loved us. But the older folk looked like they were ready to lynch us. Almost Cut My Hair by Crosby Still Nash and Young rounded out the set. John Gallo was wailing the guitar strings with the opening riffs.  Then we came back with Oye Como Va by Santana, my sister thought we were doing a cha-cha, but we finished up with a long version of Soul Sacrifice, my favorite! They pulled the plug on us after that one. We passed a hat around and I think the guy whose house we plugged into wanted a cut as well. Years later my sister would still be apologising to her neighbors for the loud rock and roll we played. This was our first paid gig, it only got better after that.

We played other block parties, won a battle of the bands at New Utrecht High School, and had the time of our lives! The BOOM-DIDDY-BOOM-DIDDY-BOOM only got louder as we all upgraded our equipment with Marshal amps and I bought a huge #147 Leslie speaker cabinet for my cheap “Jap” organ. Made it sound like a Hammond. My father put wheels at the bottom of the Leslie so it would be easier to move around. Was like moving a wardrobe around with all the other equipment we had. Got to the point where we needed a small truck to take us to gigs. I came and went into a lot of different bands over the years. The last group I was with was a band called Gypsy. Their organ player left the country so I had a crash course of learning their songs and started playing  with them in three weeks. That is the most I played with a group and was the last group I was in. College was about to begin, I met the girl I was about to marry and a third activity of being in a band was more than I could handle. Something had to give. I went to college and got married. It was great while it lasted.

When my grandmother made scarola she made it with a lot of liquid and flavored it with garlic and olive oil. I grew up eating it that way. I would love to dunk my Italian bread into the juice and eat it along with the scarola. Over the years I have made my scarola sautéed with garlic and olive oil, with most of the liquid cooked out of it. For added flavor I would put a bit of chicken base in the pan while the scarola was cooking. Once the scarola was cooked I would uncover the pan and saute it until the liquid cook out of it. This gave the vegetable an intense flavor. Almost a sweet nutty taste. Delicious. I would eat it either way. This is how you saute escarole.

Sautéed Scarola – Escarole

  • 1 head of escarole, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chicken base, or 1 bullion cube (I prefer the chicken base)
  • 1 cup of water
  • salt and pepper to taste

 Cut about 1/2 inch off the base of the escarole. Then cut the escarole into thirds.

Make sure you wash and drain the escarole in a sink full of water at least three times to get all of the sand and grit out of the leaves.

In a large saute pan add the extra virgin olive oil and chopped garlic. Cook for about a minute until fragrant. Add a cup of water to the pan and the chicken base. Stir to mix.  Add the washed escarole to the pan and cover with the lid. When the escarole comes to a boil cook for about 7 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue cooking on medium high heat until all the liquid evaporates. When the liquid is gone continue cooking and stirring for a few more minutes. Taste for salt, you might not need any because the chicken base adds salt to the dish,  and add some freshly ground black pepper.

I like to let this cool and eat it warm, not hot. Even room temperature is good. I always drizzle a little more extra virgin olive oil over the dish.  Don’t forget the Italian bread. Makes a great vegetable side dish or with the bread, a late night supper.

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About Peter Bocchieri

Peter was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and is a second generation Italian-American. He has a degree in Journalism from Long Island University and is an avid photographer, gardener and pet owner. When Peter is not out selling, he is relaxing at his Rockland County home and cooking for his sons, Michael and Joseph, family and friends. Peter's passion for food was inspired by his Mother's and Grandmother's cooking, but at the age of 10 Peter felt he could do it better himself, so he did.
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2 Responses to Sauteed Scarola – Escarole

  1. marianna ricci-wilson says:

    A wonderful story of your entrance into the world of music! Equally wonderful recipe! My father & my favorite uncle came from the same town in puglia, they were barese. they married 2 sisters.[napolitana]. my aunt used to make this escarole for my uncle’s noon dinner. he came home from work, washed up, sat down & ate the whole pot of greens & drank the broth from a mug. he used to tell me, “cara, the strength is in the broth of the escarole”. he’d polish off a small loaf of italian bread w/ the greens, a chunk of stinky cheese, 2 tomatoes from the garden, [which i had picked for him] & a small glass of wine. then back to work for the rest of the day. your recipe brought back memories of him joking, teasing & laughing w/ me. he was a hoot. i must get some escarole & make this dish. what a nostalgia trip. buon anno, mio amico, pietro….tua amica , marianna. grazie per tutti i tuoi ricette.

    • Marianna, I could remember my grandfather coming home from work in the middle of the afternoon and doing the same thing. His butcher shop was only a block away. My grandmother would make me scarola when I was sick and she insisted I drink the broth with the greens. I enjoyed dunking my bread in it. I still make it that way if I’m under the weather. This recipe cooks out the liquid and the greens take on a wonderful flavor. Hope you like it.

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