Sunday, November 21, 2010

Escarole, "Not just for Italians anymore"

"Not just for Italians anymore"

Escarole is my ABSOLUTELY favorite food...very Italian you say, yes, I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I think you can't get any more Italian than that, not even in Italy...ok, ok, just kidding, no really, we are so Italian it hurts, visit Sao Paulo in July and check out this Italian event :

So, as I was saying, I was raised drinking expresso coffee from my baby bottle as so was my brother, my sisters, my husband and everyone I knew growing up in Sao Paulo and coffee didn't make us bounce off the walls, I guess we grew used to it, it was soothing, it was comfort, it was home.
A very important staple in Sao Paulo, ESCAROLA, known in the US as Escarole.

Escarole (Cichorium endiva)
Escarole is a member of the daisy family, and is also known as Batavian endive. It has a bushy head and a slightly bitter taste. It descends from the wild chicory plant, which was first cultivated in ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. It is rather high in vitamin A and provides some vitamin C.

Escarole tastes like a slightly bitter lettuce, most people cooked it or in my case, we just throw hot olive oil and roasted garlic over it and mix it well. Usually served with French fries and a meat of your preference, my favorite is a young roasted PIG, yes, the best Escarole I ever ate, I harvested myself at my friend's farm, I used a small kitchen knife to cut the large Escarole head from the red Sao Paulo state rich soil.

This is what the Escarole I harvested looked like.

So. our meal was roasted pork, french fries and Escarole with garlic salad.
That was a very special day and I will it treasure forever.
My friend Gabriela told me the French like Escarole Salad with roasted garlic and french fries, that is a typical french meal, according to her.
However, Escarole is a much more simple and trivial food present at my family's dinner table, we usually eat it with anything, meats, french fries, rice and beans, pasta, lasagna, eggplant Parmesan whatever...there is always an Escarole salad to go with it, as my grandma and mother call it, Fried Garlic Salad or "Salada de alho frito" which is simply Escarole that you throw hot olive oil with roasted garlic crumbs over it and stir it well...
My grandma also likes to eat the "Fried Garlic Salad" with freshly baked french bread as a mid afternoon snack...she usually ate leftovers from lunch.
I am considered a sinner at my house, the black sheep of the family because I dared to prepared our traditional family "Fried Garlic Escarole Salad" with Canola Oil, which I prefer, just in this case, over the so sacred Olive Oil, this is how I make it up to this day, with Canola oil instead of Olive oil, a matter of personal taste.

This is how you see the Escarole in the grocery store

What was my surprise and cheer panic when I first moved to Dallas, Texas in 1998, and realized I couldn't find Escarole ANYWHERE!!! What!!! R u kidding me?
I was upset, you know, trying to adjust to a new life and not finding the comforts of home. I always saw Australian friends of mine in Sao Paulo who missed Vegemite or Americans who missed a certain specific brand of peanut butter ( they weren't big fans of Amendocrem, our local peanut butter) and their friends or parents could always mail them some Jars of Peanut Butter or Vegemite.
But What the Hell would I do about Escarole?????
This is comfort food to me!
The meaning of Escarole for me was far deeper than an exotic Italian vegetable.
Escarole reminded me of my grandma, my mother, weekend with friends at the ranch, vacations on the childhood, IT WAS MY LIFE MEMORIES!
It should go without saying my shock from the drastic differences between Sao Paulo and Dallas, we had a lot to adjust, a lot, from the extreme ungodly heat to paper thin walls that you could hear your neighbors, the fact that people didn't even know what Escarole was...disturbed to no end...
I have always been an avid and savvy consumer, I know how to get stores to do things for me so I started going from grocery store to grocery store around Dallas, I just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that NO ONE even knew what Escarole was really irritating, they treated me as I was from outer space and tried to show me different things that had nothing to do with Escarole.
I went home, googled ESCAROLE, found it, PRINT IT, picture and description, went back to several Dallas stores...
We used to live in the northern suburbs, for someone who knows Dallas, we were in the vicinity of Addison Road and the Addison Airport, Trinity Mills Road, Marsh Lane, Frankfort Road. If you know Dallas you know there are about 5 grocery stores per square mile in that area, Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, Super 1, Tom Thumb, Winn Dixie, Target Supermarket, Super Walmart and several other local stores. 
I visited grocery stores in North Dallas for about 3 months and one day decided to drive down south towards thought was, people downtown must be more international, more cosmopolitan, someone MUST know what a freaking Escarole was...I can't be alone on this one.
I finally found a Produce Manager at a Kroger Supermarket near downtown Dallas who was from BOSTON and just like me, had been raised eating Escarole in New England.
He promptly offered to order Escarole for me and if I managed to buy his inventory, he would keep the order on the automatic system.

Long story short, I was in "heaven", a familiar sight at last, my produce manager-Bostonian friend marked the beginning of my full adaptation into American life.
I started to feel less of a stranger/foreigner...and realized I wasn't as different from Americans as originally thought, I was really different from Texans...and started to find interest in everything New England.

Typical American grocery store produce area, identical to a Brazilian grocery store

After that initial phase of adaptation, our process accelerated.
I decided to use the Escarole example because it is symbolic of all the things and all the processes that we went thru while adapting to our new chosen land.
I am happy to report that we are living in Metro Boston today, EVERYONE knows what Escarole is and I can find it absolutely everywhere short of Dunkin Donuts :)
Today we are happy and fully adapted, hell, we are definitely more Americans than ever, we would have a real hard time re-adapting in Brazil.



Unknown said...

Gustavo and I eat Escarola pizza like every week. We love it!!!!

Ray Adkins said...


That is one of my all time favorite.
Have you tried "Pastel de Escarola"? It is awesome, we ate it at the Feira in Sao Paulo.
My mouth is watering now...we will probably have Escarola for dinner tonigth.