21 August 2009

Eating Our Greens

Greens are in season and will be until we get close to the first frost. Different greens will be in season at different times throughout the spring, summer, and fall, but some green leafy vegetable will be in season at any given point during this time.

We started the summer with tons of pea shoots from our CSA. Then we were inundated with kale and chard. For a while there I was constantly searching for new ways to prepare our greens, outside of our standard saute with garlic and olive oil. I kept fighting the saute. One of the most important things I learned from my CSA experience this summer is don't fight the saute.

The saute of greens with olive oil and garlic (and, in my kitchen, lots of red pepper flakes) is more than just a side dish. You can make all sorts of stuff with sauteed greens. It's a fabulous filling for enchiladas, quesadillas, and panini.

Want some variety? Try stuffing your enchiladas with the greens, different kinds of cheeses, add onions or carrots, use different sauces (red, green, whatever).

Try a whole wheat quesadilla with pepper jack cheese, roasted hot peppers, greens, and salsa verde. What about a multigrain quesadilla with cheddar, greens, and a spicy tomato salsa?

How about a panini of fresh mozzarella with greens and pesto? Or perhaps try squeezing some greens in between your bread with slices of fresh tomato, swiss cheese, and some shards of Parmesan and give that puppy a good toasting. Switch the quesadilla fillings with the panini fillings. Use different tortilla flavors and different kinds/sizes of bread.

By the way, you can toss your sauteed greens with some pasta and Parmesan and, if you're feeling a bit wild at the moment, a splash of cream.

J and I like cracking a few eggs into little wells we dig into the greens while they're cooking and letting them set up before scooping them out, greens and all, and gobbling it all down with crisp slices of toast or grilled bread.

Then again, just poach an egg or two and serve it atop a mound of greens or your pasta/greens combo. Let the yolk run through the greens to dress them in the richest, yellowest ribbon of flavor you can imagine.

Stuff an omelet with greens. Add some cheese or tomatoes or salsa.

Tumble some greens together with some roasted potatoes and garlic cloves for a yummy side dish.

I'm telling you - this stuff is versatile.

Are you all fired up to get some greens and garlic and get cooking? I hope so. Let's talk about greens, shall we?

Collard greens are broad and leafy with a stiff stem that you don't want to eat. Cut out the center stem of each leaf, stack the leaves together like a deck of cards, roll them up like a cigar, and slice into ribbons.

These will take a bit longer to cook than other types of greens, so you may want to blanch them for a minute or so in boiling water, then shock them in some ice water before you add them to your saute.

Black Tuscan kale can have woody stems as well. If they snap easily when you bend them, they're fine. Chop up the leaves before you saute. If the stems are tough, remove them before you chop.

Everyday, regular curly kale can be chopped up, stems and all. Be sure to check for yellowed, blemished, or rotting leaves before scrunching up a bunch of leaves at once and whacking away at them.

Red mustard greens add a great tangy, pungent taste to a pot of mixed greens. They have soft stems, so they're easy to prepare.

Turnip greens (once separated from the turnips - use them for something else, of course) are some of my favorite greens. They're mild and tasty.

After cooking up batch after batch after batch of greens this summer, I've developed a routine for cleaning and cooking the greens that makes for quicker and more thorough grit removal and better texture in the final cooked product.

To clean the greens, I fill a big bowl with cold water, grab a bunch of greens by their stems and give them a good swirl/swoosh/plunge in the bowl for a minute or so. I shake off the excess water, chop the greens, and give the chopped leaves a soak in a bowl of fresh water (agitating them to loosen up any sediment) before draining, squeezing, and taking them for a spin in my salad spinner. I pour them out onto a baking sheet to continue drying while I prep the next bunch of greens.

To cook the greens, I use a ratio of eight cloves of garlic to one bunch of greens. Yes, that's a lot of garlic, but I like my greens nice and garlicy. I chop all of my garlic at once in my food processor with some kosher salt and have everything in a bowl ready for the cooking.

I should note here that, although it is entirely possible to cook lots of greens in one big batch, I like to cook mine in smaller batches to control the texture of the greens and the amount of moisture they give off. Although I'll prep many bunches of greens at once, I'll cook off one bunch at a time, combining everything together at the end for the final cooking step.

Cooking: heat up a pan, add a nice swoosh of good olive oil, add some of your chopped garlic (divide the garlic evenly between your batches - if you have four bunches of greens, use a fourth of the garlic per batch), add about one bunch of chopped greens. Use a good pair of kitchen tongs to move the greens and garlic around the pan, taking care to get the hot stuff off the bottom of the pan and up to the top - you wouldn't want that garlic to burn - yuck. When the leaves have wilted down but remain a lovely vibrant green, slide the contents of your pan into a bowl and proceed through the remainder of your garlic and greens.

Once all of your garlic and greens have been cooked down, add all of them back to the pot over high heat. Get those leaves sizzling! Add some kosher salt and some red pepper flakes (I like a lot of heat) and some black pepper. Some people like nutmeg in their greens. I don't. When everything is nice and hot, give it one final stir and slap on the lid to your pan. Turn off the heat and step away from the greens. Leave them alone. Give them a good ten minutes. If you're eating them right away, they should still be plenty hot. If you're freezing them for another time, let them cool a bit more before bagging them up.

Don't they look tasty? This was a mixture of kale, black Tuscan kale, red mustard greens, and mustard greens. I made this batch this morning and dispatched it to the freezer. It will be filling panini (with my homemade bread) and quesadillas (with my homemade tortillas) during the winter months when good fresh greens are nowhere to be found.

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