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(article, Kelly Myers)
I have plenty of experience being out of control in the kitchen. Both at work and at home, I don’t usually get to choose the vegetables I cook.
At the restaurant where I work, our system for buying produce is very much like subscribing to a CSA, but on a large scale. That means we get what we get — like, say, 37 pounds of milk-white spring turnips, bunched with their peppery green tops.
At home, too, we purchase a CSA share, from a farmer who does not use greenhouses. She's raising only those crops that can grow in Oregon’s climate without shelter.
Talk about seasonal. This year, we’ve had gray skies and record low temperatures. Recent CSA boxes have included rainbow chard, mustard greens, dill, arugula, lettuce, spinach, spring onions, green garlic, onion and garlic tops (also known as whistles or scapes), turnips, and radishes. That's a lot of green stuff.
Over the seasons, I’ve built a collection of approaches and recipes to take me confidently through high-chlorophyll season. I still make plenty of my quick standby: leafy greens sautéed in olive oil with garlic and chiles.
But when I can’t stand that anymore, or when the refrigerator’s so full that it’s freezing the produce, I turn to one of the following techniques on my greens list to “move inventory,” as we say in the restaurant industry.
To qualify for my list, a recipe must have at least one of three virtues: One, it cooks down great volumes of leafy greens into small, consumable portions; two, it contains an element of surprise; or three, it takes greens beyond side-dish status by making them more substantial with additions like nuts, cheese, meat, or fruit.
[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Beet greens with yogurt and onions."]
I used to come down with a panicky feeling when I saw cases of emerald-colored leafy vegetables coming through the delivery door at work. Now I just consult my list of what to do with greens and take control.
Greens marmalade. This dish, from Paula Wolfert's classic Mostly Mediterranean, has an involved preparation, but it’s right for a party. Greens boiled in salted water until they are thoroughly tender are chopped and turned into a spread with anchovy, garlic, chile flakes, black olives, and raisins, then spread on crostini or rolled up inside cylinders of prosciutto or lettuce. Leftovers? Add the spread to sandwiches.
Beet greens and yogurt. Don’t be turned off by the title of this recipe, from The Glorious Foods of Greece by Diane Kochilas. I adapted it to rainbow chard (with the stems cut into squares). The result inspired my husband and I to be overly polite with each other, which is our behavior that attempts to mask greed. We were making sure we each got our share. Tender greens are sautéed in butter, then sauced with garlic and lemon-infused Greek yogurt and garnished with fried red onion.
Spiced spinach. This 17th-century Emilia-Romagna recipe, from Lynne Rossetto Kasper's The Splendid Table, embellishes sautéed spinach, or even a green as sturdy as kale, with currants, ricotta, almonds, and Parmesan cheese.
Greens vichyoisse. Essentially chilled potato-leek soup, greens vichyoisse is simple and versatile. Make potato-leek soup — or even potato-onion soup, as the white and pale green parts of spring onions substitute well for the leeks. When the potatoes and leeks (or spring onions) have simmered until tender, add chopped greens and continue simmering until the greens wilt or collapse. Immediately purée the soup with an immersion blender and serve it warm or chilled. Use additional strips of greens as a garnish, along with sour cream or crème fraîche.
Greens vichyoisse reaches sublime levels when you use really fresh radish or turnip greens. Spinach and other young greens that wilt easily are other good choices. If using a tougher green, such as beet greens, or more mature chard or mustard, parboil the stemmed leaves first in lots of heavily salted water until tender. Drain and shock the leaves in ice-cold water. Drain again and add to the soup. The parboil-and-shock process makes just about any leafy green palatable. It also removes bitterness and sets a bright green color so your soup won’t turn army-fatigues green.
Greens al pomodoro. Braise chopped greens in garlicky olive oil with a little tomato for about 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the toughness of the leaves. Sauté two or three cloves of chopped garlic in ¼ cup olive oil until golden. Add about ½ cup of coarsely chopped canned or fresh tomatoes and their juices, and one large or two small bunches of dandelion, mustard, or any other assertive green, chopped. Season with salt and pepper and chile flakes, if desired. Simmer the mixture gently until the greens soften and lose some of their bitterness.
[%image fishsalad float=left width=400 caption="Make salad a main dish with pan-fried fish on top."]
You can serve greens al pomodoro hot or at room temperature, as a side dish, pizza topping, or spaghetti sauce (pork lovers may want to add smoked bacon). This dish pairs well with all things grilled: poultry, ribs, polenta, and lamb.
Greens affogato. "Affogato" means drowned. Sauté bacon or pancetta with leeks until the leeks wilt, then add chopped garlic and chile flakes and cook for one minute. Add chopped greens, white wine (here’s where the drowning occurs), and chopped tomato, and braise until the greens are tender. This dish cries out for a fried egg on top and a bruschetta on the side.
Sautéed and braised lettuces. Yes, you can cook lettuce — good news when the arrival of the next CSA haul nears. Cooking salad greens collapses them, of course. But it is really only possible at this time of year, when lettuce is ultra fresh and filled with a subtle herb-like flavor. Romaine is your best choice, for it retains its crunchiness.
Chop romaine and braise it in butter or olive oil with sliced spring onions, mint, peas, and fava beans. Put everything together in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons butter, sprinkle with salt, and cook, covered, over medium-low heat for a few minutes or until the peas and beans are cooked through. If the pan gets dry, add a tablespoon or two of water.
I have also cut lettuce into strips and turned them into a quickly sautéed sauce for spaghettini or cappellini with thinly sliced spring onions and green garlic, herbs, and fava beans. Add fresh peas if you have them.
Main-dish salads. Just about any protein goes over lettuce. For example, one night I coated rockfish with Dijon mustard and chopped chives and marjoram, dredged it in flour, and pan-fried it. I served the fish over red oakleaf lettuce with sliced radishes, boiled new potatoes, roasted garlic whistles, and an oil-and-vinegar dressing.
The variations on this theme are nearly endless. Start with a base of lettuce, spinach, or room-temperature wilted greens. Add pan-fried, roasted, or grilled meat, fish, or tofu, and any vegetables you have around. Prepare the vegetables in any manner your time and mood dictate. You may want to try grilled spring onions, sugar snap peas cut into thirds, or small wedges of spring turnips. Instead of meat, let hard-boiled eggs, toasted nuts, or cooked and marinated beans fill out your entrée salad.
For an especially nice touch, serve the salad with a bruschetta or crostini with warm goat cheese or ricotta, olive oil, and black pepper. And one last idea: Give salads a sweet note with a few scattered berries.
I’m always on the lookout for more tips; please leave yours in the comments below. Thanks to farmer Emmet, who suggested at my last CSA pickup that shareholders treat their mizuna greens like spinach: wilted into submission with a hot, savory dressing.
p(bio). Kelly Myers is a chef and writer in Portland, Oregon.