Many local foods have a place in the hearts -- and stomachs -- of Utica residents: Chicken riggies, tomato pie, Half Moon cookies, pusties (better known as pasticiotti here in Syracuse).
And let's not forget Utica greens.
This staple of restaurant chefs and home cooks owes its existence to Utica's Italian-American community and takes escarole, a common salad green, in a whole other direction. It's chopped, blanched, sauteed in olive oil, then tossed with prosciutto (usually), cherry peppers, Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs and piled on a plate.
Voila! That's how escarole becomes Utica Greens, an appetizer to share or a complete meal, depending on how you want to eat it -- and how much you want to eat.
Our travels took us to Rome and Utica recently, and we weren't about to leave the Mohawk Valley until we were full of greens.
First stop was Dominque's Chesterfield Restaurant, on Bleecker Street on Utica's east side. The restaurant is well-known for its Greens Morelle, named for chef Joe Morelle, who added the dish to the menu at Dominque's many years back, according to our bartender/waiter.
The generous portion of greens ($8.99) was savory and well-seasoned, rich and filling thanks to prosciutto, Romano cheese and breadcrumbs and slightly zippy, courtesy of the thinly sliced cherry peppers that dotted the dish. The greens were served with crusty Italian bread and dipping oil, and a single serving was plenty for two of us.
Second stop was Giorgio's Village Cafe in New Hartford. The menu offers several takes on greens, including Greens Giorgio ($8.50), which combines escarole with Romano cheese, salami, hot cherry peppers, roasted potatoes and seasoned bread crumbs.
They were tasty, to be sure, but the presence of the potatoes in the greens made us think of fretta (a popular breakfast scramble here in Central New York) and made the dish seem heavy.
If we were to go back to Utica for greens, and it seems inevitable we will, we'll go back to Dominque's Chesterfield.
Besides the lure of its greens, the restaurant is conveniently located within walking distance of several of Utica's Italian bakeries, including the Florentine Pastry Shop, also on Bleecker Street, where we picked up a couple pusties (single-serving pastries filled with chocolate, vanilla or lemon custard) and some Italian cookies for the road.
Do you have a favorite place in Utica or Syracuse or anywhere in between you like to go for greens? Let's get a dialogue going -- leave a comment below!
Want to try your hand at Utica Greens at home? The following recipe is from an old newspaper ad for Chanatry's Market in Utica.
1 large escarole (or 2 small heads)
4 slices prosciutto, thin slices, chopped
1 to 2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 long Italian hot peppers, seeded and julienned
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Clean and rinse escarole twice; chop in large pieces.
Boil down for 5 or 6 minutes so it’s tender and wilted.
Place olive oil in a saute pan and heat.
Add chopped garlic and prosciutto and render for 2 or 3 minutes. Do not burn garlic.
Add seeded peppers and cook another minute or so.
Add the escarole and all the other ingredients in the pan.
Gradually add the breadcrumbs and grated cheese, tossing gently until blended.
Taste for final salt and pepper seasoning.
Place in a casserole; sprinkle a little of the breadcrumbs and place under a broiler for 3 to 4 minutes. Serve hot.