Utica Greens (Escarole with Proscuitto, Hot Peppers, Grated Cheese, and Breadcrumbs)

I’ve always loved greens. The term “greens” is frequently used to describe collard greens, kale, turnip greens, and mustard greens, but I grew up eating swiss chard, escarole, and brocoli rabe as greens. I’m not sure if that was an Italian thing or maybe a Philadelphia thing?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with escarole, it is frequently used in the ever-popular Italian wedding soup whose name refers to the way the ingredients mesh together like a happy love (never knew why it was called that before reading it here on the The Kitchn). The soup is a simple chicken broth-based soup with chopped escarole added as well as tiny meatballs and rice or pastina. Of course, there are a million variations but that’s the way my mom served it.

I knew that I’d love these greens because I love escarole in any form. These greens are a specialty in the town of Utica, NY, which is located in central NY. These people are serious about their Italian food, and they love to cook!  My husband is from Utica, and so we visit a few times each year. I’ve been going up there for about 10 to 15 years now but had never tried these greens before. Clearly, I have to make up for lost time and eat these way more often.

If you’ve never tried escarole before, I encourage you to give these a try. Escarole is sometimes bitter but NOT when prepared this way. The greens are first cooked in water or chicken broth (my preference), a process which removes most of the bitterness. They are then sauteed with the remaining ingredients before browning under the broiler.

These cherry peppers add a nice heat to the dish:


I’m curious to hear about the availability of escarole in other parts of the county since I’ve always thought of it as a regional dish that is popular in the Italian culture, which is fairly concentrated in the Philly/NJ/NY area. If you have trouble finding escarole, kale or any greens (swiss chard, etc) can be substituted.

4.8 from 4 reviews
Utica Greens (Escarole with Proscuitto, Hot Peppers, Grated Cheese, and Breadcrumbs)
Cook time
Total time
Spicy and flavorful greens good enough to eat as a main meal
Recipe type: Greens
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
  • 2 large heads escarole (or any greens that you like; kale, swiss chard, etc)
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil plus 1 tablespoon
  • 2 to 4 cherry hot peppers (to taste), chopped/not seeded*
  • ⅓ pound of proscuitto (Italian ham)**, chopped (can also use salami, bacon, other ham)
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs plus 2 tablespoons for topping, toasted
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese or pecorino romano (my preference) plus 2 tablespoons for topping
  • ¼ to ½ cup chicken stock
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Cut off and discard the hard bottom stem from each head of escarole
  2. Wash the escarole thoroughly, remove any damaged leaves, and rough chop
  3. Place escarole in 5 quart stock pot and fill with enough water to cover greens
  4. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not overcook) (some of the greens are cooked until the greens are extremely wilted and some people prefer it that way - cook to your liking, I prefer the greens a bit crisp)
  5. Drain escarole very well, press out all water/broth from greens, and set aside
  6. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat
  7. Add hot peppers until softened, about 3 or 4 minutes, then add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes more.
  8. Add the cooked and drained greens to pan and stir to combine.
  9. Optional but highly recommended - place greens in refrigerator overnight so the garlic infuses through the greens - this changes the flavor!
  10. Finish by combining ½ cup toasted breadcrumbs, ¼ cup grated cheese, and 1 tablespoon of ollive then add all but 2 to 4 tablespoons to the greens. (reserve the 2 to 4 tablespoons to top the dish)
  11. Add proscuitto/ham, enough chicken broth to moisten the greens, and then taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste
  12. Place greens in an over-safe casserole, top with reserved breadcrumbs and cheese
  13. Place casserole under broiler for 4 to 6 minutes until brown checking frequently
May prepare this dish ahead of time if needed

*Can use red pepper flakes to taste in place of cherry hot peppers, jarred hot cherry peppers or any hot peppers that you enjoy.
**Parma or San Daniele; other brands are not recommended



    • says

      It is good – I’ve made it twice in a row. I should have titled it “Escarole or Kale” since I’m guessing escarole is more of a regional finding. I’d like to try it myself with kale someday – I’ve heard that kale can be substituted for escarole.

      • Joe says

        If you are ever in Syracuse, the best greens in town is found at the Basil Leaf Restaurant in North Syracuse…they will make them mild, medium or hot depending on your taste…and are always the best!

        • says

          Thanks, Joe! I love trying all the different variations. We just tried Teddy’s greens in Rome NY a few days ago…amazing how they all taste a bit different. I’ll make a note of these – my SIL lives in Syracuse.

  1. carolyn says

    I had a hankering for this amazing escarole dish I had in Utica years ago, googled it … and your recipe was the first result! I’ve made it twice now (with chard and arugula) and it is just as I remembered it. Served it at a dinner party and it blew people away. Thank you!

    • says

      I love chard too! I’ll have to try it with chard instead of escarole. I’m glad you enjoyed it. You’ve got me thinking about making it again this week.

  2. Karen says

    My son and I discovered Utica greens last summer the night before teaching a 2-day class there. We liked them so much that we ordered them five times in two days! We learned from our waitress the first night that everybody has their own recipe for greens, and that there are heated debates over whether to include potatoes and/or cannellini beans. Many restaurants use hard salami or bacon as the meat, and some offer vegetarian versions.

    Back home, we launched into finding our own favorite ways of making them. Yes, kale works as an alternative for escarole. I made them yesterday with a combination of escarole and kale. We had a farm-share last summer, and we got a lot of different kinds of greens. So we’ve also used turnip, collard, mustard, and beet greens as well as chard and spinach and romaine. All a bit different, and all good. So if you like the particular green, use it in this recipe. It’s hard to go wrong. ; )

    • says

      Ha! Yes, it’s the same with the “Chicken Riggies”, which are also big up in Utica. Everyone has their own version of the best recipe -you’re right! Thanks for all the suggested modifications. It’s great to provide ideas for customization.

  3. says

    I am from Utica, now live in Buffalo, and have to have these (among some other CNY greats…half moon cookies, tomato pie, pusties) every time I go back to visit. Greens are an amazing food and anyone who has never had them is truly missing out! I actually have some escarole from our CSA all ready to be made into greens in our freezer. You have inspired me…
    Greens for dinner!

  4. Krissy says

    I was born and raised in Utica and grew up eating greens…I moved to Germany last year and just now found the German version of escarole. Making them tomorrow :)

  5. Bill O'Connor says

    Marie, I am from Utica, born and raised. If I could not have my wife’s greens, the only other place I would eat them, would be Georgios. If you’re looking for great chicken riggies, then Secret Garden and Teddy’s out of Rome, NY(10 min from Utica)

  6. Krista says

    I am from Utica also but now live in North Carolina. We travel home a few times a year to visit family and for special occasions and I always, always go to Georgio’s in New Hartford for greens. They are my hands down favorite there.

    However, it is said that Greens Morelle were the original recipe and that recipe is served at Chesterfield’s in East Utica.

    I’m glad this dish is spreading beyond central NY because we really do make the best Italian food there. Thanks for sharing!! =)

    • says

      Hi Krista – Bill also mentioned Georgio’s…must try! We went to Chesterfield’s years ago, and from what I recall, the food was pretty good. I’m sure there are lots of variations, and I’m willing to give them all a try, lol.

  7. Elena says

    This is an amazing dish. My fiance used to live near Utica and cooks Greens Morelle exactly as this recipe stating… We had some trouble finding escarole in the stores too, but usually were able to find it in Whole Foods and escarole there is relatively clean from sand.

    • says

      Hi Elena – I’ve been stuck with sandy escarole before…not fun! Whole Foods is a great source, I agree. Glad to hear you like the dish- it’s one my favorite ways to eat greens! yum. This month, America’s test kitchen has published “The Best Regional Recipes”, and Utica Greens is in there!

  8. Rae says

    Yea! Georgio’s Utica Greens are incredible, if you can’t do home made! “Traditionally” the greens would be what ever is in season and available at the time… it’s true “peasant food”. My *favorite* is with mustard greens and whichever others are available. No one should deny themselves the greens just because they can’t find escarole!! :-D

    • says

      Love it, Rae!! Great advice. I made the recipe with kale last time and it was just as good. And guess what I had for dinner tonight? Georgio’s greens! I brought some home last time I went to Utica and froze some. Yummm

  9. Melody says

    Thanks for the great recipe! I was so excited to find the “Utica” version, to make for my colleagues who don’t even know what “greens” are. I plan to go a little milder on the peppers–banana instead of cherry for a mixed crowd–but always use cherry peppers cooking for myself.

    As for restaurants in the region–We moved from CNY to Albany ten years ago–not I grow my own escarole solely to make greens. When we go home, I always get them at Teddy’s–in my opinion they’re the best around, just as good as the riggies.

    • says

      I’d love to grow my own escarole! I’ve tried Delmonico’s greens in Albany and I thought they were good. I must try Teddy’s thanks for the tip

  10. Erin says

    I’m so glad I found this recipe! I grew up in Rome, NY, but now live in Denver. I can find escarole at Sprouts, but half the time they’re out :). Also, I have to go to a specialty Italian store for the cherry peppers and Pecorino Romano cheese. It’s all worth it! I make a double batch, and between my boyfriend and me, it’s gone in days.

    Thank you for sharing!!

    • says

      I’m glad that you can still manage to get the ingredients! The cherry peppers and cheese do make such a difference. I’ve subbed other peppers and it’s funny but the cherry peppers are my favorite. Not easy to find the fresh ones though! Happy eating!

  11. Mary says

    We love these, my husband and I! We love to treat friends to them during the summer at picnics, but I’m making them tonight – on this cold winter’s day. There is a restaurant in East Syracuse, NY named Pronto’s that makes them, along with many awesome Italian dishes. Their greens are amazing!!! Try them! They are off of exit 35 on the NYS Thruway East.

  12. Dave says

    I have tried just about everyplace for greens. Recently had the best ever at Johnies Pier 31, near 13/31 intersection on SE wnd of Oneida lake. Second best are at The Franklin in Rome ( lots of hot peppers there) ..

  13. Sharon says

    I’m a Mohawk Valley girl transplanted to Cookeville, Tennessee and have been craving Utica Greens. Just bought some escarole, so now I can make my own! I make mean chicken riggies, too…now if I can find a good tomato pie recipe and also one for taillight donuts like Holland Farms make, I’ll be in MV heaven!

  14. Roxanne says

    I just returned from visiting ANY and had the most wonderful Italian greens. I have grown up living in the South and love all types of greens. This dish was so good I took a photo and sent it home. The place I ate them prepared them with thin ham and salami. Is this ham a special ham? I have got to make this for my family.

    • says

      Yes, the thin ham is usually Proscuitto, which is form of imported Italian ham. If you find some, make sure you buy the imported stuff – either from Parma or San Daniele. Domestic brands are not good. In a pinch, you can use salami, pancetta, or even chopped bacon.

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