Remember To Make Memories At The Table

Remember To Make Memories At The Table

Nonna used To Say...

Got Agita? It's Not What You Eat; It's What Eats You

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Another 30 Years: Escarole Pie

I had just washed the grit out of 6 heads of Escarole, each leaf rinsed and re-rinsed in cold water. I had two more heads to go. My fingers were prune-like, cold and cramped. My back ached from bending over the sink. My back hadn't yet straightened out after 16 hours of baking the weekend before. I was preparing my annual Escarole Pie. It is a family Christmas tradition. Out of six sisters, I'm the one who bakes this fabulous pie. Now, don't fuss at me sisters...I don't mean that not one of you has ever made this pie, but I'm the one who makes it EVERY year. Which brings me to the title of this blog. It was at head #6 that I looked over at the two left to clean and groaned. I didn't say to myself, "You have two more to go." I said out loud, "I've got 30 more years to go." You see, my mom, Eugenia, and I are exactly 30 years apart in age, and on this day as I prepare Escarole Pie in New York, she's doing the same in Florida. In 30 years, will I have the desire or stamina to bake this to-die-for pie? It is a long cooking process and can only be done when I'm home all day. So it's a day that I put all the ingredients into a pot and as it simmers, I wrap Christmas presents. So, Saturday is set aside to clean the escarole. Each washed head is torn into bite size pieces and placed in several plastic bags layered with paper towels to soak up as much water as possible. It takes hours to do this first and vital step. If so much as a grain of sand is left on a leaf and someone bites into this grit..the pie is a failure! I can't recall a Christmas without a perfect pie being on the table. My Nonna made it, then my mom, and now I bake it. I'm not sure if it is solely our family recipe, a regional recipe or what. I've never seen it in any cookbook or heard any other person of Italian descent speak of it. My father's family is from Abruzzo, and my mom's from Naples. I would love to hear from anyone who bakes this pie ...I can always learn a tip or two. So, on Sunday...I put all the ingredients into a large pot (my spaghetti pot). Yes, all 8 heads fit, a little at a time as each piece wilts. One ingredient some will turn their nose at. Anchovies. But believe me after 8-9 hours of cooking, you will never taste it. Can you leave it out, probably, should you? No. Aside from the escarole, the pie is created with a few simple ingredients...the best meal always is, isn't it? The pie consists of olive oil, garlic cloves, anchovy, pignoli, black olives, capers, escarole and pizza dough. NO salt. Once all the ingredients are placed in the pot....not cooks for 8-9 hours. Why? Not a drop of liquid can be left in the drop of liquid means a soggy crust and after grit...a soggy crust is the second mortal sin. When this pie is placed on the holiday table, it is impressive. I swear a hush falls over the room. It reminds me of the scene in A Christmas Carol when mother Cratchit presents the plum pudding to the family. There on the Christmas Eve table among the calamari, battered shrimp, Octopus (polpo) salad, bacala, eel, sits "The" Pie, a fragrant masterpiece of escarole with the best savories of Italian cuisine nestled between yeasty-scented crust. Slices of Italian bread is used to sop up the "gravy" during the first course of spaghetti & fish in tomato sauce. The main course of fish is maneuvered around the plate with a heavenly slice of Escarole Pie. If I had to bring a gift to the manger of the Christ would be this pie. I take pride in this Pizza 'Scarole. It's a dish of simple ingredients that is a labor of love. Nonna placed it on the Christmas Eve table, Momma still does and I do, too. I have hopes that my dear daughter-in-law or a grandchild might continue this tasty tradition. I know my son will cook the fish. So, will I be baking Pizza 'Scarole 30 years from now? You bet...because...It wouldn't be Christmas without it.
Pizza Escarole
8 heads of escarole: washed thoroughly, and torn into bite size pieces
2 cans of anchovy
3 cans of large pitted black olives:broken into small pieces
1 jar of small capers, drained
1 cup pignoli (pine nuts)
4 cloves of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
2 one pound balls of pizza dough
1 lasagna pan (dark metal is the best) approx 9X13 in size

Put a few Tablespoons of olive oil in a large, tall pot. Add garlic cloves and saute lightly. Add the pignoli and saute until garlic and pignoli are golden (careful not to over-brown). Add anchovies with its oil to pot. Stir and cook 1 min. Add capers and stir. Cook 1 min. Add the black olives. Stir. Start adding the escarole...little by little as it begins to wilt. After half the escarole is put into pot...drizzle what is in the pot with some olive oil. Add the rest of the escarole. Cook for 8-9 hours over a low flame (simmer) until every drop of liquid has evaporated. Sir often to keep escarole from sticking or burning in the pot esp. as the liquid evaporates. Filling can be refrigerated until pie is ready to assemble.
To Assemble: Let pizza dough come to room temp. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat the sides and bottom of pan with olive oil. On a floured board or counter stretch out one ball of dough to fit pan (can be rolled out with a rolling pin). Place stretched dough in pan, bringing the dough up the sides. Place all the escarole on dough. Even out across the pan. Stretch out the second ball of dough and cover the escarole with it. Tuck the dough snug on all sides to keep filling from oozing out. Drizzle top with a bit of olive oil. Bake for a half hour at 450, then lower to 400 degrees for another 15 min. Remember, you are really just baking the crust and warming the filling. The pie is ready when the crust is golden brown. Peek at the bottom of pie to check that this is golden and crusty, too. Cool and cut into squares. This is so worth the effort!
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Remember To Make Memories At The Table


  1. Next Christmas Eve you will be living in Florida and we will get to celebrate together again.

  2. You bet Joan..& I'll bring the Escarole Pie. N

  3. I love it! The only thing is that we always have that on our Easter table! Gotta have the Anchovies and the black olives a total must! I am also happy to hear that you use the pizza dough. I have heard some people use a flaky pie crust... it wouldn't be the same!

  4. Thanks for your comment. 'Sarcole Pie is a Christmas specialty in my family and Spaghetti Pie for Easter though I make this pie more often. What wonderful memories these pies bring to mind. Glad to hear that you agree. Hope this tradition is passed on for both of our families. Visit again.