Bruce Aidells Part II: Escarole and White Bean Gratin
When I was little, my two older brothers and I could spend hours whiling the afternoon away with a bedspread, a flashlight and my Mom’s folding board that she used to cut fabric on for the clothes she sewed for us.
With those three things, we could let our imaginations soar.
We’d unfold the board across the space between the twin beds in my brothers’ room. Then, we’d drape the bedspread on top, leaving the edge to hang over the board. And with that, we’d created a prehistoric cave, a tent for camping or any manner of secret hideaway even if it was actually in plain view.
We’d take turns crawling into the space created between the two beds and the board that lay atop them. We’d use the flashlight to send secret coded messages or to just light up the small space, pretending it was night time underneath a starry sky.
It’s funny how that make-shift cocoon made us feel so safe and cared for. But then again, when you have a toasty warm cover blanketing anything, you can’t help but feel comforted.
Maybe that’s why almost every winter holiday, I love serving some sort of gratin dish on my dinner table like this one.
“Escarole and White Bean Gratin” is from Bruce Aidells’ new cookbook, “The Great Meat Cookbook” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), of which I recently received a review copy.
A mixture of white beans, escarole or kale (which I used), pancetta, onions, celery and garlic bake in the oven underneath a crust of bread crumbs tossed with a blizzard of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of olive oil.
When it emerges from the oven, all you see is this golden crumbly, crunchy crust with no clue as to what’s beneath. You can’t help but want to dig in. When you do, you discover creamy beans and hearty greens with the smoky kiss of Italian bacon.
It’s a perfect side dish to make you feel all cozy inside. No flashlight required, either.
Escarole and White Bean Gratin
1/4 pound pancetta, diced
1 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 large heads escarole, kale, collard greens or broccoli rabe; cored, leaves separated, washed and coarsely chopped
2 cups homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
4 cups cooked white beans, baby limas, cannellini beans, or Italian butter beans
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until all the fat has rendered and the pancetta is lightly crisped. Add onions and celery, cover, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the escarole and toss with the vegetables until well coated, then add the stock, thyme and sage, cover, and cook until escarole is tender, about 10 minutes
Stir in the beans and cook for 10 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper
Lightly oil a large shallow baking dish or gratin dish with some olive oil. Scrape in the bean mixture and level the top. Combine the bread crumbs, cheese and 3 tablespoons oil in a medium bowl and mix until the crumbs are lightly moistened, adding more oil if needed. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over the bean mixture. Bake for 45 minutes, or until bubbly and the crumbs begin to lightly brown. Serve from the dish.
From “The Great Meat Cookbook” by Bruce Aidells
More Thanksgiving Side Dishes to Make: Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Butternut Squash with Balsamic and Chile Panko Crumbs
For The Day After Thanksgiving: My Version of Chinese Rice Porridge