Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Famous Utica Greens ~ A Signature Southern Italian Dish of Utica, NY

A Southern Italian specialty of Utica, NY

Garlicky Greens ~  It's a Utica thang, baby!

Artwork by Michelle Roberts Design
Garlicky, greens, baby. It's a Utica thang! This dish is a VERY popular Italian-American side dish where I grew up in New York.  Great as a side, topping for a steak sandwich or meatball sub, stuffed in chicken, pork, or leftovers can be tossed in to make a frittata in the morning! 

 These greens, actually, blossoms as they sit, so I think the leftovers are even better the next day!  This is a staple dish on EVERY Italian restaurant menu (and some not-so-Italian) in my hometown.  Now, from my kitchen to yours, I share with you. 

My Mom claims that the original recipe only had escarole, garlic, pickled cherry peppers and breadcrumbs. Over the years, the recipe has evolved into something a little more "souped-up," or as some restaurants would call, "Greens Deluxe." So, technically, my recipe here, is more of a Deluxe version... But, you can use the recipe as kind of a canvas, and get creative with it! 

Back in my hometown, as a tribute, there is even an annual Greens Festival, a free event open to the public, where local restaurants show off their culinary chops with their own version of the dish, plus so much more!! Vendors line historic, Varick Street with lots of crafts, specialty food products, etc. Plus, there is always a fantastic line up of musical talent with UMAF ( Utica Music & Arts Fest ) musicians playing live in the streets.  Check out the Utica Greens Fest Facebook page to learn more about this famous dish and the Festival!

* "Utica Greens Fest" Poster artwork by the very talented, Michelle Roberts, of Michelle Roberts Design   Thank you, Michelle, for the kind permission.

"Utica Greens Fest," an Annual Celebration!

Breadcrumbs are essential to the distinct texture

3 heads of escarole (rinsed very well)
2-3  tablespoons of olive oil

3-4 cloves of garlic (pushed through a garlic press)
5-7 Pickled hot cherry peppers (roughly chopped; quantity depending on how much heat you like)

3-4 slices of prosciutto (or, pancetta), torn into 2 inch pieces
3/4 cup of plain bread crumbs, (not Italian.)
1 cup of artichoke hearts (quartered)
¼ cup of grated cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano) optional, but who doesn’t love cheese?

1/2 cup of chicken stock (optional)


1. Cut the bottom of each escarole head, and chop into large (4 square-inch sized, but you may chop smaller if you like them that way) pieces.  Steam the escarole in a wire basket over a large pot of boiling water (2 inches of water) for about 7-8 minutes, or until limp.  It will reduce greatly as it steams. (If you boil the escarole, keep an eye on it so the greens do not get too mushy). They should still be slightly firm.
2. Meanwhile, in a 12 in skillet, add the prosciutto in about 2 tablespoon of olive oil.  Next, add the hot cherry peppers (add about 1 Tbsp. of the pickling liquid), artichokes, and garlic, and chicken stock on low heat. Cover, and allow to cook on very low heat for about 10 minutes, so the hot cherry peppers soften all the way through.

3. Next, with tongs, remove the escarole from the wire basket and drain in a colander until no water drips out. (you may need to give it a little squeeze). Add it to the sauté and toss, turning quite a bit so the ingredients incorporate.
4. Sprinkle in the breadcrumbs, liberally, and toss, thoroughly.  (The breadcrumbs give a nice, fuller-bodied texture you want.)
5. Sprinkle in the grated cheese and toss again (optional, but adds great flavor).
6.  Let sit for at least 15 minutes, so the dish can blossom. 

A great side dish for "Utica Chicken Riggies!"

The basic Greens recipe doesn't have a lot of add-ins, besides the hot cherry peppers. It's more of a blank canvas.   But, once you start adding mushrooms, artichokes, prosciutto, potatoes, etc.. it becomes Greens Deluxe. (which I love best!) :-) Also, my Mom told me that Chef Joe Morelli sometimes added a slight bit ( a few Tbsp.) of chicken stock to his. I don't think I've ever had them this way, but I'd give it a whirl next time I do. Anything Chef Morelli touches is gold, so it must be great! 


  1. I think I had a recipe for this once... and it was totally delicious... but if I'm remembering right, we baked the whole casserole after we put some parmesan on the top... yes? no?

  2. Thank you for this recipe and even more for the Chicken Riggie Recipe. Riggies are my son's favorite dish and he often comes home for the Chicken Riggie Cookoff. Our daughter lives in the NYCity area and comes home for the food. She says she can't find all the great food anywhere in the NYCity area. I guess Utica has some wonderful specialties. Thank you. Kat