Escarole Soup (with Lemon and Orzo)

This recipe came to me from my mother, in a binder of her favorites she compiled for me as a Christmas gift. ¬†I’m not sure where she found it. ¬†She subscribes to many food magazines, has dozens of cookbooks, and always has an eye out for new delights. ¬†If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably from Rachel Ray. ¬†I added a couple of twists, so we’ll say “adapted from” the latter.

Soup Weather

It’s escarole soup time because the nights are getting colder¬†and I have a ¬†tenacious escarole in my garden that survived the harvest of my early season crop. ¬†It was so prettily ruffled and vivid green I did not have¬†the heart pick it.

projects&promises|escarole soup with lemon and orzo
the September escarole

However, after all this time¬†it’s just a bit¬†too bitter and tough for a tossed salad. ¬†I’ve read in Deborah Madison’s gorgeous ‚̧ book¬†Vegetable Literacy about how cooking will mellow the bitterness of escarole so I’ve been eager to try this:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, sliced thin or diced
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced thin, or minced
  • 1 head escarole, rinsed thoroughly, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (more or less, to taste)
  • 4 cups chicken broth (homemade or your favorite brand)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup orzo (depending on how thick you like your soup)
  • mini meatballs (homemade or your favorite frozen brand-1/4 oz size)

Heat the olive oil, over medium heat, in a 2 quart pot.  Add the onions and cook until very soft and slightly caramelized.  Add the garlic and cook an extra 1 minute or less (to avoid scorching).   Add the escarole and cook until wilted.

projects&promises|escarole soup with lemon and orzo
wilt the escarole

Add the chicken broth and lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Add the orzo, and cook until tender, according to directions on package.  Finally, add as many meatballs as you like and cook until they are heated through.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with grated parmesan and crusty bread.

projects&promises|escarole soup with lemon and orzo

Some notes–

  • you may wish to add less orzo, or even cook it separately and add at table because it lends a lot of starch to the soup (or rather sucks up a lot of the liquid). ¬†Anyway, if you like a broth-y soup, be conservative with the pasta.
  • remove the outermost leaves of the escarole because those are likely to be the toughest and least tasty
  • the lemon juice helps tone down¬†the bitterness of the escarole, and I actually added a bit more than this recipe calls for because my escarole was very (!) mature. ¬†I thought I had gone too far with the acidity, but the richness of the meatballs and the parmesan pulled it all back together



The Garden of Possibilities

The view at the head of the trail that winds through the Japanese Garden at The Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio is a perfect metaphor for what my Mom and I learned on a guided tour there yesterday. What you might see on a single visit is enchanting but it only hints at the depth and breadth of the Aboretum’s mission and its present and future offerings.

Work in Progress

Many thanks are due to Luke Messinger, Executive Director, for inviting us to see the ongoing progress of the Japanese Garden Restoration, as well as many other projects that will greatly benefit guests of the Arboretum and the community at large. The Japanese garden was temporarily reopened this week after being ‚Äúclosed for renovation‚ÄĚ since late winter. The reopening was to honor several commitments made to engaged couples who couldn‚Äôt imagine being married anywhere but in that garden. It‚Äôs a spectacular and much beloved wedding venue. The reopening was also a great window of opportunity for Luke to show us what‚Äôs in the works.

photo of the meditation house in the Japanese Garden, Dawes Arboretum, Ohio
the new meditation house
photo of the joinery at the mediation house in the Japanes Garden, Dawes arboretum, Ohio
the joinery of the meditation house

A point of great pride is the newly rebuilt meditation house, created from the original plans. Its very precise joinery is in the traditional Japanese style. It will be getting a coat of light-colored stucco over the green board, and will stand out from its shady setting as the old one did.

photo of the Dawes Arboretum meditation house framed by a tree
a view to the meditation house
photo of the stepping stones in the Japenese Garden Pond, Dawes Arboretum, Ohio
the stepping stones

The giant stepping-stones across the pond have been leveled and reset. The end of the pond has been dredged of the sediment deposited over the years. The¬†area next to the pond, between it and the motor tour road is being prepared for what is sure to be wonderful addition. The plan is to plant a grove of Katsura trees that are native to Asia and have beautiful golden fall color. They will mix well with the nearby American hardwoods, and along with North American sedges at their feet will create an ‚ÄúAsian Themed Upland Woodland Garden‚ÄĚ. Something I was not aware of was the crucial part the Japanese garden pond plays in the management of rainwater throughout the Arboretum, and how all the excavation will vastly improve it and help with the collection of sediment that actually has great value and can be repurposed!

photo of the ponds, Japanese Garden, Dawes Arboretum
the pond

More wonderful things in store include the leveling, rerouting and resurfacing of paths to make the garden more accessible to guests with strollers, wheelchairs and walkers. Certain paths and roads will also be altered so they are more intuitive and guide users to emerging and expanding areas of the North Arboretum such as the Daweswood House, the History Center and the Zand Education Center…and beyond.

That Red Barn
the Red Barn Environmental Education Area, Dawes Arboretum
the Red Barn Environmental Education Area
photo of picnic tables in the the Red Barn Environmental Education Area
picnic tables in the Red Barn

If you are already a visitor to the Arboretums best-known collections, but have wondered about the barn that sits just to the North, and is visible from Route 13, it is the Red Barn Environmental Education Center. It was originally a sheep barn, but was acquired by the Arboretum along with surrounding lands. The entire area has very recently been equipped with a set of hands-on open air classrooms for visiting school groups.  It may also be used for events and nature walks by the public on weekends and during the summer months. The barn has numerous picnic tables, many  of which have a tops constructed of different woods harvested from trees at the Arboretum.

The Circle of Life
photo of tabletop plaque, the Red Barn Environmental Education Area
tabletop plaque “Red Oak”

It seems incongruous to harvest trees at an arboretum, but they do have life cycles, and eventually decline. At that point, they are felled or pruned before they become a hazard to guests or a threat to their immediate ecosystems. They are then put to the very best use that can be devised by the Arboretum staff. It might be furniture that will be enjoyed by future picnickers, or whimsical enhancements to the garden beds appreciated by the birds, squirrels and passers-by.

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What Comes Next
photo of the Japanese Garden, Dawes Arboretum, Ohio
the Japanese Garden

Ever ambitious and seeking to fulfill its mission, the Arboretum is also considering options for a new Visitor‚Äôs Center with a children‚Äôs outdoor adventure garden where kids can play and reconnect with nature. There are plans for a working farm that will highlight the best of sustainable agriculture. Later on this summer ¬†the Agricultural beds that formerly held the “Power Plants” ¬†will bloom with sunflowers. ¬†That will be lovely to see.¬† The possibilities are endless at this point, and as in the Japanese garden, the things that lie along the path to the future at¬†Dawes Arboretum are certain to¬†surprise and delight¬†visitors, their children and their children‚Äôs children.

photo of rhododendron blooms, Japanese Garden, Dawes Arboretum, Ohio
rhododendrons in bloom