italian cooking

Steal this salad! Escarole, crispy prosciutto, 6-minute egg, shaved parm and lemon add up to a spectacular starter

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

You're bored with Caesar. Fed up with the wedge. Finished with chopped. But where, or where, is the simple yet stunning salad of your dreams?

If you don't have it, steal it.

That's what I did. 

The escarole salad I stole, back in December, at Sprezza.

The escarole salad I stole, back in December, at Sprezza.

One night back in December, Thierry and I were having dinner at Sprezza, chef Julian Barsotti's Roman restaurant in Dallas. Thierry first saw it on the menu: an escarole salad with egg and prosciutto. "We're having that," he said. He doesn't usually make such definitive pronouncements when I'm dining for work, but there it was. He had to have it. 

I would have ordered it any case (wouldn't you?).  It was pretty simple, just the bitter winter greens dressed in a lemony dressing, with crisped prosciutto, shaved Parmesan and a halved five-minute egg. (At least it looked like five minutes; it had one of those perfect, just-set, almost gelatinous bright golden yolks.)

Crisped prosciutto, just out of the oven

Crisped prosciutto, just out of the oven

The salad was as wonderful as it sounded and probably looks. The touch of lemon was exactly right with that salty ham. I knew it had to be mine. I would go home and recreate it. Steal it. For you. And for me.

With just one tweak: When I ate it, I wanted some of the egg in every bite, so I had to cut up that halved egg and toss it in a bit. I'd address that in my steal.

The first time I made the stolen salad, I was sort of stymied: couldn't find escarole at the two supermarkets I tried. With friends coming for dinner, I punted, and used Belgian endives. 

As I slid a baking sheet of prosciutto slices into to the oven, I thought about the dressing. Shouldn't be too hard to figure out. I'd keep it simple. Basically just lemon juice and good olive oil. Probably no added salt because of the salty prosciutto and the cheese. The bitter edge of the greens would be balanced by the richness of the egg.

I was getting hungry thinking about it, so nibbled on one of the prosciutto crisps. You can do that too: No one will know.

For the egg, I was a minute off. To achieve a perfect yolk, bring the eggs to a boil in cold water, remove the pan from heat, cover it and let the eggs sit in the hot water for six minutes. Drain and run cold water on the to stop the cooking. Perfect.

The salad came together beautifully, even with the endives. Frisée would work too. Or a combination of the two.

Next time I found escarole, and the salad was everything I hoped it would be; it was exactly the right starter for a pasta dinner with close friends. My pal Georges, a former chef who is even more critical than I, flipped for it. 

My new favorite winter salad is ideal for entertaining, as you can cook the eggs, crisp the prosciutto and wash and dry the escarole ahead of time. Just before you sit down, make the simple dressing, throw the greens in a bowl, add the eggs, toss it all together, then garnish with the prosciutto and shaved parm. 

Here's the recipe:

Who says crime doesn't pay?





Luscious pappardelle with duck and porcini ragù can happen in your very own kitchen

Pappardelle with duck and porcini ragù

There they were, on a shelf in my fridge: six duck legs.

What to do with them? I could roast them, I thought. 

But I wanted something luscious. Saucy and luscious. I wanted a braise. 

A ragù! I could make a rich, delicious duck ragù to dress big, fat, toothsome homemade pappardelle noodles. Once it got to simmering, I could make fresh pasta, working slowly and lazily as the kitchen filled with magnificent aromas. 

I hadn't made fresh pasta in years. Maybe more than a decade. But now, suddenly, I had to have it. Oh, to feel the dough gliding through the rollers of the pasta machine, then later to bite into springy, lively noodles – bathed in that luscious ragù I'd already conjured in my brain's delicious-dream center.

No turning back now. 

What did I need? What did I have? Red wine, check. Onion and carrot, check. Fresh thyme, check. Can of diced tomato, box of chicken broth, check. I even had some dried porcini, which would be perfect with the duck, rounding out and deepening the flavor. Flour and eggs for the pasta, check. 

Looked like I was in business.


It might sound daunting to achieve something so impressive in your own kitchen, but the duck ragù part is actually pretty easy. If you don't feel up to making your own pasta, you can still feast deliciously on duck and porcini ragù with dried pappardelle. 

Here's how it goes. Brown the duck legs in a little olive oil, then sauté onions, diced carrot and garlic cloves. Deglaze the pan with red wine, add herbs, chicken broth, tomatoes, dried porcini and the duck legs, cover the pot partially and simmer – and simmer and simmer, low and slow. See? Nothing to it. And you're almost there.

Meanwhile, make the fresh pasta, concocted from nothing more than flour and eggs. You can make the dough in a jiff in the food processor, but lately I'm feeling low tech, so I mixed it by hand in a big bowl. (Also, my food processor blade has been recalled by Cuisinart.) It's not as difficult you might think; do it a few times, and it becomes goofy-easy. In fact, I'll reckon you can make better handmade pasta in your own kitchen than what's generally served in restaurants, where it's so often tough, or gummy.

And working with the dough – with those gorgeous aromas in the background – is supremely soothing. Even if your old-fashioned Atlas pasta machine has developed a high-pitched squeak from disuse. 

Wanna give it a whirl? Here's now to do it:

Back to our ragù, which is now smelling insanely wonderful. When the duck legs are almost falling-off-the-bone tender, pull them out, take the meat off the bones and put all that tender meat back in. Simmer the ragù a few more minutes – basically, until you can't stand for another minute not to be eating it. Even feckless teenagers, home, say for winter break from college, won't be able to stay away.

Drop your gorgeous pasta in boiling salted water. Leave it just two or three minutes – the fresh stuff cooks really quickly. Now pull it out gently with tongs, and drop it into the simmering ragù. Let it cook there another minute, so it soaks up all that incredible flavor. Turn it into a serving bowl or platter. Drop some chopped Italian parsley on top. Or not. 

Pour the red wine. Pass the parm with a grater at the table. Prepare to swoon.

Here's the recipe. Call me when you've recovered.