Oftentimes I’m completely at a loss when it comes to dinner plans. Pre-COVID, it didn’t matter so much. I’d admit defeat and we’d simply walk down to Hollywood Blvd and sit at the bar at Musso & Frank Grill – often chatting up the patrons next to us. These days bar dining is not possible. In fact, indoor restaurant dining still makes me a bit nervous. So I need some extra nudging in my last-minute menu planning. Sometimes I luck out and the perfect meal for my mood and my schedule presents itself. Thanks to the LA Times that’s how I happened to prepare this Chickpea and Escarole Soup with Crispy Bread Crumbs for a casual meal at home on an evening when, believe it or not, there was a whiff of rain in the air.
One of the pleasures of living in Southern California — rain isn’t usually one of them — is the availability of unusual vegetables to serve as inspiration. Many of them are specialized versions of something you already love, like the Martian green Romanesco cauliflower. Some are exotic varieties from another hemisphere, such as Peruvian oca, a technicolor root vegetable that can’t decide if it wants to be an Easter egg or a potato. Others like puntarelle are so crazy you might not know what to do with them. Then there are classic, old-world vegetables that aren’t so much unusual as they are unusually hard to come by. I’m talking about the chicories called for in LA Times’ Escarole Soup.
The best examples of escarole are a full 12 inches across with creamy yellow hearts in a nest of wacky green leaves pointing out in all directions. These heads are so big they can hardly be stuffed into a bag. Once home, they fill the refrigerator drawer so completely it will barely close. When you’re done wrangling one of these chicories you’ll probably wonder why you even bought such a thing.
Well, don’t fret, when you’re lucky enough to come across a perfect specimen it’s a thrill to carry it home and explore all its possibilities. After all, it’s so large and its taste and texture are so varied that there are several wonderful things that can be done with just one head of chicory.
Starting with soup. Chickpea and Escarole Soup with Crispy Bread Crumbs.
I saw this simple but eye-catching recipe in the LA Times Food section this past Sunday. It came from Thea Baumann on one of those Sundays when I needed some menu planning inspiration. I guess I wasn’t the only cook in Los Angeles in need of Thea’s Escarole Soup nudge that day. When I walked down the hill to the Hollywood Farmers Market I actually encountered a gaggle of folks rooting around the dwindling pile of escarole from the only farmer that still had chicories this late in the season. GREG