The one comfort food that stands out for me among all other comfort foods is scarola. That’s right, scarola, escarole, a vegetable. And scarola was my go to dish when I was sick. I have had my share of childhood sick days. Lord knows, from September through March I have had colds, fever, sore throats. It was like clock work, the holidays would come around and I was in bed with some kind of flu or virus. And the one thing that stands out in my mind, other than my mother covering me in wash cloths and socks soaked in alcohol to bring down my fever, is my grandmother coming to my bedside with bowls of scarola. I would get sick and my grandmother started the pot of scarola. She boiled it in a pot of water and added garlic and “Italian oil”, as she would call olive oil, and served it up to me in a large bowl with the broth and a piece of Italian bread. Along with the scarola, my grandfather would bring home some Lamp rib chops from his butcher shop. You know, the real good expensive ones with the bone handle and the tender disc of meat at the end. That was one advantage of being the butcher’s grandson. Cooked in the broiler with just some salt, the lamb chop and scarola was my original comfort food. And like a miracle, it brought me to health every time. Of course, my mother always welcomed the help my grandparents would give in my time of need. That was one of the advantages of living in the same house as your grandparents. I had a double dose of care and love all the time. And there was always someone around to help make you feel better. Not to mention the great food everyone prepared for you. I kind of looked forward to getting sick. Hmmmm!
Another benefit we enjoyed when we got sick, besides eating well, was we got to watch TV in bed. It’s the only time my folks would roll out our portable black and white TV and put it by my bedside. You see, for my younger audience, we did not have a TV in every room. We had the one main TV in the living room and that was it. Same thing for telephones. One phone in the hall way. One phone number. And we had no clue who was calling until we answered the phone. No call waiting, if someone called and you were on the phone they heard a “busy” signal. Remember those? And we had no clue someone else was trying to reach us unless they called back. It’s amazing how we survived such archaic times. But there was a limit my mother allowed me to watch TV, even when I was sick. It was basically limited to the morning and early evening. The rest of the time I kept busy playing making bed tents, reading Hot Stuff, Richie Rich and Superman comic books, playing with my army men and taking naps in between. Every once in a while when my father got home from work he would bring me a new toy. Not very often, but it was great when he did. I remember one time he bought me a potato gun. My mother almost killed him. The potato gun was a wonder of its time. You would push the tip of the gun into a potato, breaking off a potato slug, and then shoot the potato slug. My mother spent hours cleaning up the potato spuds all over the room.
This Mpanada di Scarola is a pie my family would make for the holidays, along with other pies filled with broccoli and olives, usually around Christmas Eve. If you like escarole you will love this pie. It’s easy to make and warms the heart along with the belly. Give it a try.
Mpanada di Scarola (Escarole pies)
Basic Pizza Dough (recipe follows)
- 1 large head of escarole, 1 1/2 pounds, washed and cut into thirds
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, diced
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup pitted black Gaeta or kalamata olives, roughly chopped
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 cup grated ciaciocavalo or provolone cheese
- 1 egg beaten with a teaspoon of water for egg wash
In a large pot add the escarole and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the escarole is tender. Drain the escarole. Rinse under cool water so you can handle, and squeeze dry. Roughly chop and set aside.
In the same pot you boiled the escarole in, heat the oil over medium heat and cook the garlic for about a 1 minuet. Add the onion and stir for 2 minutes, add the escarole, and olives and saute until the escarole cooks down and the onions becomes soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cool add the cheese. Taste for salt, add black pepper. Then add the beaten egg. Mix well.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
At this point you can either make a pie or loaf. My family made loafs. Guess they were loafers. Roll out your pizza dough on a piece of parchment paper the size to fit your sheet pan. Lay out your filling across the dough from left to right, right to the edge.
Slightly fold over the left and right side “burrito” style and bring the long ends over, pinching closed. If you have too much dough trim off before bringing over.
Place seam side down and place the loaf and parchment onto the sheet pan. Score about three slits on top of the loaf and brush with egg wash.
Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Slightly cool before serving. Taste great at room temperature, if it lasts that long.
Basic Pizza Dough
- 1 envelope active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup warm water
- 3 – 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for coating dough
- Put the yeast, sugar, and water into a small bowl, stir.Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the olive oil to the yeast mixture and pour into the well. Work into a dough with a wooden spoon.On a lightly floured board, knead the dough, folding it over and over until it is smooth and silky. Add a little flour as needed until the dough is no longer sticky. Shape into a ball. Lightly oil a bowl and place the dough in the bowl, turn dough over to coat the other side and cover it with a dish towel. Let stand in a warm place until doubles in size, about 1 hour.