Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Green Acres

For my next installment in the farm box glut chronicles, greens. The Bay Area being the house that Alice Waters built, we receive all kinds: beets with their tops attached, turnips, ditto, Dinosaur or Lacinato Kale, Green Kale, Bok Choy, and spinach. Bags and bags of dripping wet mesclun. Muddy mixed lettuces. We’ll get these for months, until seasonal eating makes us want to scream or run out and buy seven dollar Dutch tomatoes.

Lacinato is tough stuff; it’ll hold in the fridge for several days. Not so the others, which wilt seemingly the moment I get them into the house. So I cook them, quickly, and eat later.

A word about cleaning greens: the salad spinner does not cut it. You end up with damp, sandy, crushed leaves and a dirty spinner.

My method is to fill a large bowl with cool water and swish the greens about until the grit settles on the bottom. Dry as best you can with paper towels, or if you are an environmental type, cotton dishcloths.

I learned a neat cutting technique from chef Jessica Prentice: if your greens are bound by a rubber band, leave it on. Roll the leaves tightly, then slice into ribbons until you reach the bound stem end. Angling your knife away from the stems, trim the remaining bits of greenery. You now have all your greens and slightly less mess; I find it impossible not to get green water and shreds of veggie everywhere.

Now, to cooking.

Most of the time I toss the greens into a saute pan with olive oil and white wine. A couple cloves of garlic. Variations on this theme include shallots, chicken broth, cayenne pepper, butter, smoked bacon, or ham.

After eighty-five times or so this preparation gets a bit tired. Turning to my cookbooks for inspiration, I found Swiss Chard with Olives and Raisins in the Gourmet Cookbook. I am on the record as loathing fruit or sweet spices with savory food. This recipe is no exception. For the original recipe, calling for ¼ cup golden raisins, consult page 542 of the Gourmet Cookbook.

The other ingredients:

Olive oil
garlic
8 Kalamata olives (why Gourmet arrived at 8 I’ll never know. I threw in a handful.)
a bunch o’ chard. (in my case, spinach and mixed greens)
salt
pepper
¼ c toasted pine nuts..

The original recipe calls for adding ingredients in a specific order; I heated the olive oil and garlic, added the greens, allowed them to cook down a few minutes, then dumped in everything else. Excellent. The pine nuts are the kicker, adding crunch to an otherwise mushy dish.

Hockeyman and I have also made gratins using greens and potatoes. To my amazement, I can’t find the recipe we used last year; we must have improvised. Whatever we did, I know we must have used Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for rough guidelines.

Broadly speaking, then, I remember boiling potatoes in their jackets, then slicing them once they’d cooled. We layered them with chard leaves (here is an instance where you must wearily wash each leaf and leave it intact) in our 5 ½ quart Le Creuset braiser, which I’d rubbed with garlic and butter. Poured milk over the whole mess, grated some Parmigiano atop, and slid it into a 350 degree oven for forty-five minutes or so. I covered the pan for the first 30 minutes, then removed it so the top could brown.

You can also use cream or creme fraiche, should you have some. This is nice on a Sunday night with bread, and leaves you with yummy luncheon leftovers.

I also use greens in soup—turnip or squash—lending flavor and color.

A favorite meal is sauteed greens with baked sweet potatoes and pork chops. Something about the bitterness of the greens, combined with the sweetness of the starch and mild pork is immensely satisfying. This is a great meal for women who, to put it delicately, may otherwise be experiencing violent, weepy cravings for salt and sugar.

Finally, pasta, ye olde standby. Last night, a fresh farm box shedding everywhere, I trimmed the long leafy top from a daikon radish and set it in a bowl of cool water. Added a bunch of chard and some spinach leaves, as huge amounts of greens cook down to a teaspoonful. Minced a little garlic, heated olive oil in a saute pan. In went the greens. Put on the pasta water to boil, realized I had a little farfalle and a little rigatoni. Marcella Hazan does not know where I live, so I put them in together to cook.

I broke up the remaining Moussaka-adventure feta cheese into a bowl, then stirred everything together. If you want to gild the lily, grate some parmesan over everything. Then congratulate yourself on eating such healthy food.

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