Escarole is a lettuce that can lend a slightly bitter element to a salad of mixed greens, but its distinctive flavor and body also make it great for cooking.

A classic Italian pairing is escarole with white beans. I like to add blanched escarole to stuffings and pastas as well. Here, the interplay of the slightly bitter green, the unsmoked Italian bacon called pancetta and slow-cooked garlic bring lots of flavor to a weeknight pasta dish.

At the store, look for packages of diced pancetta near the deli section and packages of pre-cut escarole near the boxed leaf lettuces.

For a slightly richer dish, drizzle about a teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil over each portion just before serving.

FUSILLI WITH ESCAROLE, PANCETTA AND GARLIC

Servings: 1

12 ounces dried fusilli (corkscrew-shaped) pasta

Salt

1 large head escarole, washed, trimmed and cut or torn as for salad, (2- to 3-inch pieces, about 15 ounces total after trimming)

2 teaspoons olive oil

4 ounces finely diced pancetta

3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped (1½ to 2 tablespoons)

Freshly ground black pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Prepare the pasta according to the package directions. Drain.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the escarole and cook/blanch for no more than 30 seconds (just to wilt the leaves). Drain, and press out any excess water. Spread out on a clean towel or paper towels.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta, and reduce the heat to medium; cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the pancetta just starts to brown and loses its raw look.

Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the garlic. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the garlic is soft, adjusting the heat so the garlic cooks but doesn’t brown. Increase the heat to medium; add the escarole and pepper to taste, using tongs to incorporate the ingredients. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, mixing occasionally, so the escarole warms through.

Add the cooked pasta to the pan, or transfer the escarole mixture to a serving bowl and combine with the pasta. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Serve warm; pass grated Parmesan cheese at the table, if desired.

Nutrition per serving: 260 calories, 14 grams protein, 45 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 180 mg sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 1 gram sugar.