When I wrote at the very beginning of the growing season, snow was on the ground; so it seems fitting that I return for Round 2 after last weekend's Wintry-Mix-a-thon.
Cold-weather greens are once again dominating the CSA and market scene. You'll probably see collards, kale, chard, mustard greens, broccoli greens and usually a bunch or two of something you don't recognize: nevertheless, they can all get the same treatment in a soup pot.
What I missed the first time around, I think, was the wonderful combination of winter greens with meat; most of the recipes I included were vegan, and all were vegetarian. While it's nice to have meatless options, there's a reason they cook their greens with ham in the south -- they're delicious that way! (If you are a vegetarian, at least get your hands on some smoked salt, which will add some of that amazingly deep Southern flavor.)
For preparation, I've recently learned a nifty trick: hold the leaf vertically by the stem's end. In your other hand, take a small paring knife and run the blade along the edge of the stem; the leaf will slide right off and drop into a pile. With practice, you can very quickly remove the tough stems of a whole bunch of greens; then just slice them into ribbons for use in the following recipes.
- Sauteed with Bacon: this is about as easy as it gets. Start with a couple of strips of bacon, sliced crosswise into small pieces; cook these until crispy and remove with a slotted spoon. In the oil, saute strips of greens (with a little chopped onion if you want) until wilted. Add a splash of cider vinegar; cover and cook on low heat until tender. Garnish with the crispy chopped bacon. Once you're in love, you'll learn to save the fat whenever you cook bacon; it keeps a long time in the fridge and you just need a tablespoon or so to make another batch of greens.
- Italian Sausage Soup: I first had this at the cafe in the glorious food mecca, Wegman's. Start with Italian sausage (rolled into balls or loose, sweet or hot, plain or with added spices.) Sauté until browned, pour off some of the fat and add onions and garlic; cook until softened and add greens and whatever stock you like. Simmer until the greens are tender and finish with a cup or so of cooked white beans (if you're starting from dry, you can quick-soak for an hour in boiling water and add them with the greens.) Garnish with lemon juice, chopped parsley and shaved Parmesan. This recipe, as my friend Dana recently wrote, is infinitely tweakable: she's made versions with rice or potatoes instead of beans and usually includes a can of tomatoes for added color and flavor. Either way, the soup keeps several days and is wonderful reheated; that's one of the advantages of sturdy leaves!
- Green Gumbo: This is a Southern take on the Italian soup above. Combine several bunches of assorted greens with a ham hock: if possible, use a hock from a salt-cured ham. Cover with stock or water, add a bouquet garni and simmer a good long time (several hours or so) until the meat is falling off the bone. Purists will insist on the addition of a butter-flour roux and the "holy trinity" of onion, celery and bell pepper, but I'd just leave it as is, ham and greens, served over rice with a dash of Tabasco.
- With Roasted Chicken: Next time you roast a chicken, remove it to cool slightly on a plate or board, but don't throw out those lovely browned pan drippings; toss them with strips of greens and return them to the oven for a few minutes to cook. You won't even regret skipping the gravy.
- Greens and Eggs: Lately I've been making the frittata with ham -- sauteeing strips of chipped, stewed or even deli ham along with the onion. Then I add previously-steamed greens (not necessary for softer greens like spinach and chard,) cover with beaten eggs and top with Swiss cheese. It's incredible. Another way to serve them is simply to steam the greens in a pot; when they're almost done, make several wells in the greens and crack an egg into each. Cook until the whites are set and the yolks are as done as you like them; top with hollandaise if you're really feeling decadent.