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Greens Glorious Greens!

By Johnna Albi and Catherine Walthers
RECIPE: Shredded Beets and Greens with Sliced Oranges
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Fields of Greens : New Vegetarian Recipes from the Celebrated
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Three Ways to Cook Greens in Under 10 Minutes

Hot Wilted Greens
Mess o’ Greens Salad With Warm Pecan Dressing
Pasta with Dark Greens

The old school of Southern greens cookery called for simmering them to death. The new school of thought is that colored kales, chards, beet greens and the like are too pretty to treat like that. Tender young greens can be cooked in a matter of minutes. Quicker yet, wilt the greens with a hot dressing that keeps largely intact the strikingly attractive greens in the trendy braising, or sauté, mixes that salad mix growers sell at farmers markets.

Andrea Crawford, of Kenter Canyon Farm in the San Fernando Valley, has this simple suggestion for those who buy the sauté mix she sells at farmers markets: sauté five cloves of garlic in olive oil until they soften; turn the heat way up and throw in the braising mix until it wilts; squirt on some red wine vinegar until it disappears; serve over pasta.

Sylvia Thompson, in a recipe for Sicilian-style rapini published in The Kitchen Garden Cookbook (Bantam, 1995), does essentially the same thing but adds toasted pine nuts and raisins.

The recipe, which requires 10 minutes of cooking time, also works with chard, spinach or any other tasty green.


The Kitchen Garden Cookbook
By Sylvia Thompson
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Here are two other somewhat more involved suggestions on ways to sauté greens in 10 minutes or less, and third recipe that, with the addition of pasta, takes just a bit longer.

Countryside Farms, which runs a major farm stand near Stockton, recommends the following recipe.

Hot Wilted Greens

  1 thick slice smoky bacon
½ T olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium sweet red onion
3 T chicken stock
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 quart mixed piquant leafy greens (such as arugula, endive or mustard greens)
¼ cup toasted pecans

1. In a large, deep skillet or wok over medium heat, cook bacon until crispy. Remove and drain on paper towels. Crumble and reserve. Add olive oil to bacon drippings in skillet, heat and add garlic and onions.

2. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, until onions and garlic are softened. Stir in chicken stock and vinegar.

3. Add greens and mix. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, until leaves are coated. Cover and cook several minutes more, until leaves are wilted and cooked tender-crisp.

4. Top with bacon and chopped pecans. Serve hot. Serves 4.


A different tradition of quick-cooked spring greens has been passed down through the generations in the family of a black South Carolinian novelist, farmer and farm stand operator named Dori Sanders. She traces many of her family’s culinary traditions to her Aunt Vestula, who died when Dori was a young girl.


Dori Sanders’ Country Cooking

By Dori Sanders
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Aunt Vestula, a link to a bygone era of southern history, worked around the turn of the century in the kitchen of a plantation near Charleston. Part of her pay was bringing home leftovers. In Dori Sanders’ Country Cooking (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, N.C., 1995), Sanders describes a springtime tradition of foraging in the fields for wild greens, many of which are available in cultivated form in Southern California farmers markets. She mentions what Carolinians call creasie greens (field cress that is a wild relative of water cress), pokeweed and dandelion greens.

Pokeweed tastes like beet leaves but with a stronger flavor, she writes. If you'd like to try them at home, some further research would be in order. Mature pokeweed leaves are poisonous, so this plant must be picked when it is very young. And by some accounts, even the young leaves should be boiled for five minutes, several times, in fresh water each time. 

The recipe below calls for the sorts of greens commonly available in grocery stores and farmers markets.

Mess o’ Greens Salad
With Warm Pecan Dressing

  6 cups fresh mustard, turnip, and/or collard greens (about 1 pound)
6 cups fresh mustard, turnip, and/or collard greens (about 1 pound)
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. honey
1 T Dijon mustard
2 tsp. vegetable oil
½ cup pecans, roughly chopped or broken

1. Wash greens well, dry thoroughly, then remove and discard the long stems. Tear the greens into salad-size pieces and place in a large bowl.

2. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, honey and mustard. Set aside.

3. Heat the oil in a small skillet until hot but not smoking. Add the vinegar mixture and pecans and cook, stirring regularly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour over the greens and serve at once.


People in Mediterranean cultures, who have been big fans of bitter greens, such as dandelion and chicory, for centuries, boil them as a matter of course. Authorities on Italian cuisine recommend cutting the greens crosswise into 1-inch pieces before plunging them into the salted, boiling water. Then wring out the excess water, chop them up, and proceed with the desired recipe.

Cookbook author Diane Seed, in The Top One Hundred Italian Dishes (Ten Speed Press), suggests tossing dandelion greens or rapini with a chunky-shaped pasta, like penne, orechiette or ziti.

Seed, who teaches cooking classes in south Italy, suggests cooking the pasta in the same water used to boil the greens, which not only adds flavor to the pasta, but saves time, to boot.

She favors turnip greens in the following recipe, but broccoli raab (rapini), mustard or dandelion greens work just as well.

For the best flavor, use a strong, fruity extra-virgin olive oil. Serve with a loaf of thick-crusted, whole-grain bread.

Pasta with Dark Greens

  2 pounds broccoli raab, turnip,
mustard or dandelion greens
Kosher salt
1 pound orechiette, penne or other pasta
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 anchovy filets in oil, drained and finely chopped
Pinch dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper and salt

1 In a large pot, bring 2 to 3 quarts of water to a boil.

2. While the water heats, trim the greens and wash them well. Cut the greens crosswise into 1-inch pieces or strips.

3. When the water comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt. Toss the greens into the boiling water; cook until they are almost tender but still bright green, 8 to 10 minutes. (The time will vary somewhat depending on what kind of greens you use. Testing them is the best way to know when they are done.) With a slotted spoon, remove greens from the pot and toss into a large bowl of cold water.

4. Add the pasta to the pot of water in which the greens were cooked. While the pasta cooks, squeeze the greens to remove as much water as possible. Fluff the greens to separate them, then set aside.

5. In a large, heavy skillet or a wok, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, just until the garlic begins to color. (Take care not to let it burn or the dish will taste bitter.) Add the anchovies, pressing them so they "melt" into the oil. Add the pepper flakes. When the pasta is almost done, 10 to 12 minutes, add the drained greens to the pan and cook together for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove pan from the heat.

6. Drain the pasta, leaving a bit of water clinging to it. Add the pasta to the cooked greens; toss well. Season to taste with pepper and salt. Serve immediately with a loaf of the thick-crusted, whole-grain bread. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Note: If you prefer, the greens can be cooked ahead and held up to 8 hours. (Refrigerate them if it will be more than two hours, then bring them back to room temperature before using.) You won't get to reuse the cooking water from the pasta, but you will be able to put the finished dish on the table in just minutes.


Copyright 2005 Seasonal Chef