Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Eatin' o' the green

Since we're getting close to St Patrick's Day and the wearin' o' the green, I thought it time to talk about the eatin' o' the green, particularly because greens continue to dominate fresh farm food right now. Most greens--kale, spinach, collards, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli--happen to be cold weather crops. Mother Nature knows what she's doing so we should as well. She's piling on the sunshine and chlorophyll our winter weary bodies need to refresh and cleanse. Here are a few simple, worldly ways to make your table green in March:

Roasted Pears and Green Beans
serves 4

1 lb whole green beans, cleaned
2  pears, peeled and sliced lengthwise
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tbsp slivered almonds, lightly toasted
Steam the beans until just tender. If you don't have a steamer put them in a lidded pot with a minimal amount of water (say 1/3 cup), cover and cook over medium heat until the water has evaporated, about 3-4 minutes. Turn off heat and let them continue to steam in the covered pot. Sauté pears with melted butter, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar in a large skillet over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Stir in hot green beans, and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Top with the almonds to serve.

Broccolini Gomae (how the Japanese eat greens)
1 bunch baby broccoli/broccolini

4 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp Japanese cooking wine, Mirin, or Chinese cooking wine
1 tbsp tamari (wheat-free Japanese soy sauce) or any soy sauce
½ tsp rice wine vinegar

Put the broccolini whole into a large saucepan, generously add salt and cover with water 1" higher. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer and cook until broccolini is just tender, maybe 5-8 minutes. Drain and dry well. Put broccolini in a deep serving dish.

In a dry skillet or frying pan, toast the sesame seeds over medium heat for 2 minutes or until they start to become golden brown. This can happen very fast so stay focused on this. Grind or smash the sesame seeds into a paste. Stir in the cooking wine, tamari, sugar, rice wine and water to thin the paste into a dressing. Spoon over the broccolini and serve at room temperature.

Saag Paneer (Indian spinach or any greens with fresh cheese)
serves 4 as a side

1 1/3 lb fresh spinach, well washed
2 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
½ lb paneer or feta or best halloumi cheese, cubed 
1 small onion, very thinly sliced (a mandolin is helpful)
4 fat garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1” fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 fresh small green chili, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp salt
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add spinach, blanch for 10 seconds, then drain and cool in ice water. Squeeze well to dry. Finely chop the stalks and roughly chop the leaves. Squeeze again and again until no more water comes out – it should be as dry as possible.

Heat the ghee/butter in a large heavy frying pan on a medium-high heat and fry the cheese cubes until golden and crusty. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Heat the remaining ghee/butter until it just starts to smoke.
Add onion, garlic, ginger and chili, then the spices and salt. Fry, stirring vigorously, until everything is browned but not burnt.
Add the chopped, dry spinach and cheese and stir vigorously until everything is hot. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Ghanaian Spicy Spinach
This West African dish should carry you away to someplace new and adventurous.
serves 4

½ c vegetable oil (corn, canola, safflower, mustard)
1 medium red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp minced ginger  
1 habanero chili, seeds and ribs removed, minced
kosher or sea salt
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 ½ lb plum tomatoes, chopped
¾ cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds
2 1/2 tsps smoked paprika plus a dash of Thai fish sauce)
1 1/2 lb spinach, washed, dried and roughly chopped
3 large sweet (yellow) plantains, peeled and boiled in salted water until just tender

In a Dutch oven, warm the oil over medium heat, and add the onions, garlic, ginger, chili and ¼ tsp salt. Cook over medium heat stirring frequently until the onions are golden brown and sweet, 10-15 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and another ¼ tsp salt. Bring to a boil, partly cover the pan and lower heat to simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has cooked to a rich tomato-soup consistency, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender blitz the pumpkin seeds to until it just starts to get clumpy as a powder. (Do not overprocess into a butter.) Remove to a bowl.
When the tomatoes have reduced, add smoked paprika and fish sauce to taste, and simmer 2 minutes. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, to the bowl of pumpkin seed powder until it is a loose paste. Add the paste on top of the tomato sauce, and spread it out. Cover the pan, and cook 5 minutes.
Stir the sauce all together; it will look like a thick porridge. Add a few splashes of water, and increase heat to a boil. Stir in the spinach, until wilted and tender. Taste, season with salt (or more fish sauce, if using) and serve with boiled sweet plantains.

Himalayan style Mustard Greens with Pork

 serves 3-4
Typically this is made with flat leaf Indian mustard greens, not the curly ones available here. If you can't find flat leaf, use Chinese broccoli, aka, gai lan, or a leafy green like yau choy.

1 lb. mustard or bitter greens
1 lg. onion, peeled
2 tbsp. garlic/ginger paste (1” ginger, 2-3 lg. garlic cloves)
2 tomatoes
1 tsp. salt or 2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. cooking oil
3/4 lb pork shoulder or baked ham, cut into thin narrow strips
fresh ground black pepper

Dice the onion and tomato separately. Chop the mustard or bitter greens into confetti.

 In a large wok or skillet. heat the oil. Add the chopped onion and stir fry over medium heat until it’s brown and carmelized.Add the ginger/garlic paste and stir to blend.  Add the diced tomatoes. Lower heat and cook until the tomatoes have released all their juice and are mushy. Add the pork/ham, raise heat to high and stir fry the meat 1 minute. Lower heat to medium. Throw the chopped mustard greens into the pot, stir to blend. Add the salt or soy and mix thoroughly. Raise the heat to medium and continue to stir fry three minutes until the greens are soft and tender. Remove from heat and serve.

Chard Gratin from Ottolenghi

1/3 c olive oil
1½ tsp caraway seeds
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2+ lbs plum tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
1¼ lb chard, washed, leaves and stems separated, leaves roughly chopped, stalks finely sliced
4.5 oz (roughly ½ c) sorrel, roughly shredded**
1 ½ tbsp mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 ½ tbsp. dill, roughly chopped
8 spring onions, cut into ½” pieces
8 0z feta, roughly crumbled into ¾” pieces
¼ c pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1 c Greek yogurt
2 ½ tbsp parmesan, finely grated
5 ¼ oz coarse polenta (fine polenta will do, if you can’t find coarse)
**if you don’t have sorrel use 1 tbsp lemon zest
Heat the oven to 400º. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large sauté pan for which you have a lid, then fry the caraway and garlic over a medium-high flame for a minute, stirring most of the time. Add tomatoes, chard and ½ tsp salt. Cover and cook 15 minutes, stirring every now and then, until the chard has wilted and the tomatoes have broken down. Remove from heat and stir in the sorrel, mint, dill, spring onions, feta and olives.
Put the eggs, yogurt, parmesan, remaining oil, polenta, ¾ c water and ½ tsp salt in a large bowl and mix to a thick batter. Pour half the batter into an 8 x 12” ovenproof baking dish, so it completely covers the base, then spoon the greens evenly over the top. Pour over the remaining batter – it won’t completely cover the greens, but that’s OK. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until risen and dark golden-brown on top, leave to stand for 10 minutes, and serve hot.

Kale and Polenta Layer Cake
I saved this for last because it takes some time. Nothing very hard, just a few steps more than usual.
It's festive feed for vegetarians. 
Serves 6

2/3 cup polenta
3 cups water
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp minced roasted poblano pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup shredded or grated mozzarella cheese

*carnivore options
2 bunches kale
1 med white onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp pine nuts
¼ tsp salt
½ cup ricotta cheese (fat free is fine)
 2 lg sweet potatoes
¼ tsp salt
2 cardamom pods, cracked or ¼ ground cardamom.
2 tbsp mascarpone
 ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
pinch of nutmeg
1 tbsp olive oil for the pan

Grease an 8 or 9” springform pan with 1 tbsp olive oil and set aside.
Preheat oven to 375º.

Peel and coarsely chop the sweet potatoes. Put in a pot and cover with water.
Add the salt and cardamom pods. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook until potatoes are soft, 12-15 minutes.  Remove cardamom pods. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, put the sweet potatoes in a food
processor. Add 1 tbsp of the cooking water and hold the rest. Add the mascarpone. Quickly puree.  Set aside.

Remove kale leaves from their thick stems. Wash and drain carefully. Combine kale, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor. Using the pulse button, chop the kale into small pieces as though making pesto.
In a small skillet, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium/low heat. Add onions and black pepper. Sauté 5 minutes until onions are soft.  Stir in the chopped kale mix. Sauté 3-5 minutes until kale is soft but still bright green.
Remove from heat. Add salt and ricotta and blend well. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup sweet potato water with 2 cups water. Add salt and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal and continue whisking until it is absorbed and the mixture starts to thicken, 5 minutes.
 Add oregano, pepper flakes and minced poblano pepper. Continue cooking over low heat 2 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add mozzarella cheese, stirring as you go and continue cooking 3 more minutes so all cheese is melted.  Polenta should be thick and creamy now.
Cover the bottom of the oiled springform pan with an even layer of the polenta.
Cover the polenta layer with an even layer of the kale mixture.
Top with an even layer of the sweet potatoes.
Top with the grated parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of nutmeg.
 Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake at 375º for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking 15-20 minutes until top is lightly brown.
 Remove from heat. Cool in the pan 10-15 minutes. Remove sides of the pan.
Serve cut in wedges like a cake.

*Carnivores can add ½ cup chopped chorizo or pepperoni to the polenta or ½ cup chopped garlic sausage to the kale.

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