Escarole Pie or Pizza di Scarola always reminds me of a childhood friend’s mom, who frequently had one sitting on the counter of her kitchen in Paterson New Jersey, minus a few slices of course. Historically a Christmas Eve dish from Naples, growing up many Sicilian American family friends had a version as well. Actually, there are countless variations of this savory dish throughout Italy particularly in the regions of Puglia & Liguria.
The word pizza in Italian refers to double crusted savory or sweet pies. Escarole pie starts with fresh flat leaf escarole and can be seasoned with onion, garlic, pine nuts, raisins, currants, olives, capers, anchovy and cheese or any combination of these ingredients.
Pizza di Scarola customarily uses a pizza style dough as a crust, although some of the historical versions use a more classic flaky pastry made with lard. A bit of whole wheat flour added to my favorite pizza dough creates an even more rustic pie. The dough couldn’t be easier to prepare and handles beautifully.
Between La Levitt returning to a vegetarian diet and La Nipote a strict vegan, I opted to adhere to a vegan version of Escarole Pie meaning no anchovy or pecorino to add that earthy, salty edge. Simple yet careful preparation of the ingredients renders a flavorful complex filling which did not suffer from the absence of either.
The filling can actually be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated until you are ready to bake the Pizza di Scarola.Pizza di Escarole makes a 12 inch double crusted pie, a feast for a crowd. It is ideal as an antipasto, main course or hearty lunch.
Don’t be intimidated, this is something you can do with even the most basic of kitchen skills, a little time and patience are all that is necessary. Your friends and family will be suitably impressed when the massive Escarole Pie is presented at the table, lo prometto.
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- ¼ tsp. yeast
- 1½ cup room temperature water
- 2 Tbs. Extra Virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 3½ cup Double Zero or all purpose white flour
- ½ cup organic whole wheat flour
- Some Double Zero or all purpose flour to knead and roll out the dough
- 4 heads of flat leaf escarole, about 4 pounds in total
- 2 medium sized onion, chopped
- ¼ cup of dried currants, plumped in hot water for 15 minutes
- ½ cup lightly toasted pignoli or pine nuts
- ½ cup black olives roughly chopped
- ¼ cup of capers, rinsed & drained then roughly chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Extra Virgin olive oil for oiling the pan and brushing over the finished pie
- Prepare the dough by combining the water, yeast, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and 2 teaspoons of salt in the work bowl of a standing mixer (or in a large bowl of your choice). Mix to combine the ingredients and add the whole wheat flour and about half of the white flour. Mix either with the standing mixer or by hand until you have a smooth liquid dough. Add the remaining white flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and a smooth ball has formed. You may require less or perhaps more flour depending on the humidity that day. Hesitate from adding too much flour, the dough should be soft, smooth and supple. Place the dough in an large oil lined bowl, cover with a clean cotton kitchen towel and allow to rise for 4 hours.
- Remove the leaves from the escarole heads, discarding any bruised or damaged portions and place in a sink or large bowl of cool water to wash away any signs of soil. Rinse well and remove to a large colander. Bit by bit chop the escarole leaves into strips and then cut across the midsection to create smaller pieces. Set aside on a clean cotton kitchen towel.
- Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil to a large skillet over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot add the chopped onions, reduce the heat and cook until nicely golden, stirring as necessary. Add the garlic and cook for several minutes insuring that it does not burn. Season the mixture with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Add all of the cleaned and chopped escarole to the pan stirring to incorporate it with the onion mixture. The pan will be spilling over, cover and cook over medium heat until the escarole has wilted and fits comfortably in the pan. Remove the top, stir well and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes to insure that the greens are well cooked and that the residual liquid has evaporated. Add the pine nuts, capers, olives and currants combining well and taste for seasoning. Allow the escarole filling to completely cool before proceeding.
- Using the olive oil, grease a 12 inch by 2 inch baking pan well - a little extra olive oil on the bottom of the pan will help the dough brown. Preheat the oven to 400º, place one of the racks in the bottom third of the oven. The oven must be nice and hot.
- Punch down the risen pizza dough and knead briefly on a lightly floured counter top to expel all of the gasses. Divide the dough into two balls, one a bit larger than the other. Take the larger of the two dough balls, place on a lightly floured surface and begin to stretch by hand or with a rolling pin to about 15 inches. If you are rolling the dough, be sure to lift it periodically to make sure that it is not sticking to the work surface; if it does dust the surface with a bit more flour.
- Fold the rolled circle of dough into a quarter piece of folded dough and place it into the greased pan, unfolding it to line the pan and sides. Gently position the dough into the corners of the pan, allowing the excess dough to overhang the edges. Allow the dough to gently rest and rise in the pan for 20 minutes.
- Once the pan has been lined with the dough, roll the second ball in the same way to a diameter of 12 inches and allow it to rest and rise on the counter for 20 minutes.
- Fill the pan with the cooked and cooled escarole mixture and gently place the 12 inch circle of dough over the filling. Trim the overhanging dough with a scissors so that the excess is equal around the perimeter of the circle. Turn the trimmed edge of the dough into the pan to create a crust around the inside rim. In doing be sure that the edges of the pie are sealed. Using a sharp knife, cut three or four holes in the center of the top to allow excess steam to escaped during the baking process, brush the top and edges of the dough with a bit of the olive oil.
- Place into the oven on the prepared rack and bake for 20 minutes. If the top has not browned suitably, reduce the temperature to 375º and continue to bake for another 10 minutes. The crust should shrink away from the sides of the pan and be nicely browned.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Pizza di Scrolla can be eaten hot, warm or at room temperature.