Hye Thyme Cafe: Utica Greens

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Utica Greens

If you are going to live in this area, there are two things you need to know how to make - Utica Green and Chicken Riggies. If you also make Half Moons and Tomato Pie, you get bonus cred.  ;)

Growing up in New England, I had always attributed Greens to our neighbors in the South, so when I first moved to New Orleans, I was eager to try them and sought them out at a few of the favorite local hot spots for soul food. I was sadly disappointed. To me, they were very slimy and bitter, so after my second try, I gave them up for good.

When I moved to New York and my sister asked me if I wanted Greens one day, I looked at her like she was nuts! If I didn't like them down south, there's no way I would like hers. Oh how wrong I was! It's literally all about the greens. Down south, they lean toward collard, mustard, and dandelion greens, where here there is a lot going on with kale and escarole.  Utica Greens are made with Escarole. 

The potatoes are optional, but I love my greens with potatoes. I especially like my greens with potatoes because we usually make a huge batch, so what doesn't get eaten in one meal shows up again the next morning with breakfast. Heat up some greens and slide a couple of your favorite cooked eggs over the top and you've got "Greens, Eggs and Ham" with built in homefries.  :)

3 heads of Escarole
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
4 red potatoes
4 oz salami, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 hot cherry peppers, diced 
   (we use jarred/pickled)
2 Hungarian Wax Peppers
1/2 c fresh chopped parsley
1/2 c grated Parmesan (add'l for garnish)
olive oil
crushed red pepper
seasoned bread crumbs
smoky paprika
garlic powder

Cooking is very flexible, so there are a lot of ingredients that can be switched up. Don't like red potatoes? Try Yukon Gold. Can't find Hungarian Wax Peppers? Use Italian Long Hots. Don't like it hot (what's wrong with you?!?), use Cubanelles. No bread crumbs? Try stuffing mix. It's all about you and what you like. We usually use prosciutto, but I decided to try the salami today. I was planning to have it thick cut at the deli, but the line was so long, I gave up waiting and grabbed a package of pre-sliced. Maybe you'd prefer pancetta or bacon? Or how about Romano instead of Parmesan - or a mix of the two? Play around and see what your crew likes best. How about oregano instead of parsley? Just remember to keep notes so you don't forget what works for you from one experiment to the next!  ;)

Start by washing your escarole. It has a tendency to be very dirty when you get close to the root. You can either slice the root off the bottom to separate the leaves or just pull them off, running them under water as you go along. That's usually what I do - run them under the faucet and move them to a strainer. Some people go right ahead and chop theirs. I just let it drain, then when I'm ready to use it, I tear the leaves as I'm adding them to the pan.  

If you're going to use the potatoes, go ahead and address them next, while your escarole is draining. Although I had picked up 4 potatoes, I remembered that not everyone here is eating carbs at the moment, so I only ended up using 2 and putting them in half of the final dish. Just wanted to point that out so you wouldn't wonder why the picture didn't look right. I diced the potatoes and put them in a plastic bag, drizzled in a little olive oil, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of bread crumbs and gave them the ol' Shake 'N Bake. Toss them in the oven at 350 for about 30", then set them aside. When dicing, you don't want them to be so small that they disappear in the dish, but you don't want them to be huge either. You want to make sure you can get a piece of potato and greens in each bite.

While your potatoes are cooking, you can keep busy chopping your veggies and salami and grating your cheese. When it comes to the peppers, just bear in mind that the seeds and pith are where most of the heat lives, so how well you clean them will affect how spicy your dish ends up.  

Now that you're all prepped, you can get started. As you may have noticed when washing the escarole, you're gonna need a big pan/pot. Much like when you cook fresh spinach, it looks like a mountain when you start and a tablespoon by the time you're done, so don't worry. If you don't have a big pot, just add it in a little at a time as it cooks down, or work in two pans.

Saute the garlic, onion, and peppers in a little olive oil, over medium heat, until soft. Season with a little salt and pepper (careful about too much salt since you'll be adding Parm or Romano later) and start adding in your escarole and salami. Shake any excess water off the escarole as you're adding it. If you end up with too much water, just pour it off into the sink. You want some moisture to allow for steam, but not so much that you're boiling it. As for the salami, you want to add the meat at the beginning so it starts to cook down and the flavor permeates through the dish as you're adding to it.

As the first round of escarole starts to cook down, you can add in your parsley and some crushed red pepper, then really pile in the escarole, giving it a good stir to pull up the good stuff from the bottom of the pan. It may look scary for a minute since it might be piled over the top of your pan, but fear not -- pop the cover on and let that baby steam for a few minutes. If you don't have a cover for whatever pan you're using, top it with a cookie sheet.

When the escarole is cooked down and tender, turn off the heat and mix in about half of your cheese, breadcrumbs and potatoes. Scatter the rest of the potatoes across the top, then sprinkle on the rest of the crumbs and cheese. Top it all off with a dusting of paprika and a few dots of butter (or a spray of your favorite cooking oil), and bake at 350 for about 30" until golden on top.

You can see I've got the carbolicious potatoes and breadcrumbs on the left and the no fun sans potato version with just a light coat of crumbs on the right.

See how far from the top of the pan it is now? That's how far it cooked down. Plus, when it was overflowing before, the potatoes hadn't even been added yet!  

Where's my fork???


  1. I have yet to take on cooking greens since I moved to the south. Perhaps, I will try this recipe first.

  2. I had some for dinner last night. :) I should have mentioned that if you happen to get greens with really huge or woody stems to go ahead and pull them off. Mine were on the small side this time, so I didn't bother.


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