Utica Greens

Elevated Escarole

What Is Utica Greens?

Utica greens is a traditional dish from the city of Utica, New York. It is a type of sautéed or braised greens, typically made with a combination of bitter greens such as escarole, dandelion greens, or mustard greens, and mild greens like spinach or collard greens. It is usually seasoned with garlic, olive oil, and hot pepper flakes and sometimes bacon, prosciutto or pancetta are added for flavor. The greens are cooked until wilted and tender, and it is typically served as a side dish, sometimes accompanied with a sprinkle of grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Ingredients For Utica Greens

Utica Green Ingredients


2 Heads of Escarole

3 Garlic Cloves


½ cup  Parmigiano-Reggiano


5-7 cherry peppers

1 Cup of Bread Crumbs

½ Cup of Olive Oil


8 oz Pancetta 


1 tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

How To Make Utica Greens

Step 1

Prep Produce


Escarole cut into thirds


Begin by cleaning the escarole thoroughly. It’s crucial to wash the escarole to get rid of any dirt, sand, or unwanted particles that might be on it. Since escarole is a leafy vegetable that grows close to the ground, it’s prone to getting dirty or picking up harmful substances during its growth and harvesting stages.


Washing it not only removes these particles but also helps eliminate any pesticides or chemicals that could have been applied while it was being grown. These substances could be dangerous if eaten, so make sure to wash the escarole well to reduce as much of them as possible.


After making sure the escarole is clean, cut it into thirds. The leaves of escarole are large and tough, which can make them hard to eat in their whole form. By cutting the escarole into smaller sections, you’ll find it easier to eat and to cook with. Smaller pieces cook more evenly and faster, making your preparation process smoother.

Step 2

Boil & Strain Escarole


Escarole boiling in a pot, wilted.


After cleaning and cutting the escarole, the next step is to boil it. Boiling softens the leaves and lessens their bitter taste, making them tastier to eat. This step also ensures that any leftover dirt or contaminants, possibly overlooked during the washing process, are removed. Additionally, pre-boiling escarole shortens the time needed to sauté it in a pan. To do this, boil the escarole in salted water for approximately 15 minutes.



Escarole straining


An important step in preparing this recipe is ensuring the escarole isn’t too wet when served. Allow the escarole to cool for about 10 minutes after boiling. This cooling period is essential because escarole tends to hold a lot of water, which can make squeezing out the excess quite a challenge. Attempting to do this while the escarole is still hot can be difficult and might even lead to pruned hands, as I’ve personally experienced – it’s not only tedious but can also be painful.


Once the escarole is sufficiently cooled, press out as much water as possible. This step is crucial for avoiding a watery, diluted final dish. Properly draining the escarole ensures that the flavors in your dish remain concentrated and delicious.

Step 3

Cook The Meat & Peppers


Pancetta, cherry peppers, garlic, and olive oil frying together


While the escarole boils, start sautéing the other ingredients in a pan over low heat using extra virgin olive oil. Begin with the pancetta, cooking it for about 5 minutes. Then, add the garlic and cherry peppers to the mix. It’s important to use hot cherry peppers for this recipe. Although they are relatively mild in heat, adding too many can overpower the flavors of the pancetta and garlic. Start by slicing up about five cherry peppers. You can always add more later if you decide you want to increase the spice level of the dish.


The combination of ingredients in this recipe harmoniously blends to create a rich, layered flavor profile that is both comforting and stimulating.


The pancetta, with its salty and slightly smoky taste, adds depth and a robust foundation to the dish. As it renders down, the pancetta releases its fats, infusing the olive oil with a savory essence that acts as a base for the other ingredients. The addition of garlic introduces a pungent, aromatic quality that is both earthy and slightly sweet when sautéed, enhancing the complexity of the dish. Cherry peppers, with their mild heat and slight sweetness, offer a vibrant contrast to the richness of the pancetta and the boldness of the garlic. The heat from the peppers is not overwhelming but provides a subtle warmth that enlivens the palate.


Together, these ingredients create a symphony of flavors where the smokiness of the pancetta, the aromatic garlic, and the gentle spice of the cherry peppers complement each other, ensuring that each bite is balanced yet full of character. This careful balance ensures that the dish is rich in flavor without any single ingredient overpowering the others, making it a delightful culinary experience.

Step 4

Add Escarole, Cheese & Bread Crumbs


Escarole, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese being added to the pan


At this point, add parmesan cheese and bread crumbs to unify the mixture. If you have a preference for Pecorino Romano cheese, feel free to use it instead. Whichever cheese you opt for, aim to use the highest quality grated cheese available for the best flavor. Increase the heat to medium to ensure the breadcrumbs are well-cooked and integrate fully into the dish.


The choice of breadcrumbs plays a pivotal role in the success of this dish. You have two main options: opting for a premade variety, like Progresso, or making your own breadcrumbs from scratch. Each type brings its own unique qualities and advantages to the dish. Homemade breadcrumbs, created from toasted and then ground bread slices, offer a range of textures from fine to coarse and typically have a more pronounced, fresh flavor due to the use of freshly baked bread.


Premade breadcrumbs, conversely, are derived from stale bread that’s been dried and processed. Their texture is generally consistent, and the flavor can vary, with some brands adding seasonings like garlic or Parmesan. These may also contain preservatives and additives, influencing their overall taste and texture.


The practical differences between homemade and premade breadcrumbs also merit consideration. Making breadcrumbs at home requires time and effort, including baking or acquiring bread, allowing it to stale, and then processing it into crumbs. Premade breadcrumbs, however, offer convenience and are easily found in stores, making them an efficient choice if you’re pressed for time or lack stale bread.


Both homemade and premade breadcrumbs have distinct benefits and drawbacks. Homemade breadcrumbs bring a fresher flavor and varied texture, while premade breadcrumbs offer ease of use and consistent texture. Your choice between them will hinge on your personal preferences and the specifics of the recipe at hand. If time allows and you’re inclined to make your own breadcrumbs, it can add a unique touch to your dish. Otherwise, premade breadcrumbs are a practical and satisfactory alternative.


Once you’ve chosen your breadcrumbs, stir the mixture to evenly distribute the ingredients through the escarole. Season with salt and pepper to enhance the flavors, ensuring a well-seasoned and flavorful dish.

Step 5

Enjoy Your Utica Greens!


Utica Greens


Top it off with extra parmesan cheese and serve this traditional side dish. Feel free to make this for your loved ones and share a piece of Utica with them!

Sorry To Bother You

Sorry To Bother You


Protagonist, Cassius Green


More About Utica Greens

In the 1980s, Joe Morelle created “Greens Morelle” in Utica, New York for the Chesterfield Restaurant. Over the years, the name has evolved and is pronounced in various forms, from “Italian Greens” to “East Utica Greens” down to just “Utica Greens”. Even Guy Fieri teamed up with a Upstate New York native Anne Burrell to share their version of greens, calling it Turning Greens, inspired by the landmark Turning Stone Casino.


This dish has grown into a cherished appetizer or side in Utica, showcased in numerous local eateries with minor tweaks to the recipe. Among these, my top pick is Georgios Village Cafe. They offer two versions of the dish: The Village Greens and Georgios Greens, with the main difference being the inclusion of potatoes in one version. For those looking to save room for the main course, opting out of the potato version might be wise. If you find yourself in the Utica area, a visit to Georgios Village Cafe in New Hartford to try their greens is highly recommended.


A word of caution regarding the cherry peppers in the recipe: it suggests using between 5-7 peppers, but leaning towards 5 is advisable.


Cherry Peppers


Overdoing it with the cherry peppers can overpower the dish, making it less enjoyable for everyone. I learned this the hard way during a Christmas dinner that left my grandma less than thrilled. To avoid similar mishaps, it’s better to use fewer cherry peppers.

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