All too often, winter greens get a bad rap. They're considered overly assertive and aggressive. The word "bitter" gets thrown around a lot. But treated properly, the greens can add a wonderful, even lively, dimension to a recipe.
Which is why they're so common in so many cuisines, such as the New Year's staple of slow-cooked greens and black-eyed peas in the South, Chinese mustard greens quickly stir-fried with a touch of garlic and hot pepper, or slow-braised German cabbage.
Consider winter greens as you might a relationship: Get to know them, treat them right and the rewards will be long-lasting.
Incorporate winter greens raw or cooked, depending on the variety and your tastes. Use small, tender leaves as a raw garnish or salad base. If the leaves are larger, or even the slightest bit tough, as with kale, massage them with a little vinaigrette or oil and salt; the rubbing tenderizes the leaves, as with cooking, and mutes their dominant notes. And if you've grown weary of kale lately, just think beyond smoothies and kale chips -- the stuff is incredibly versatile.
Many winter greens adapt particularly well to grilling or charring. Halve or quarter a head of endive or escarole and throw it on the grill; the direct heat quickly caramelizes the leaves to bring out the vegetables' sweetness. Some greens, such as chard or spigarello -- a relative of the broccoli family often found in Italian cooking -- can be quickly wilted or sauteed, or even added at the last minute to a soup or stew, lending bright color and only mildly aggressive flavor.
Other varieties, such as mustards and older or larger-leafed vegetables, benefit from low and slow cooking, their peppery notes and tougher textures yielding with time.
You'll find that many recipes call for separating the leaves from their thick stems before cooking. Fibrous stems break down more slowly than the more delicate leaves, which is why many preparations involve cooking the stems first, then adding the greens toward the end of the recipe.
Even the toughest winter greens require delicate care, and you'll want to use them within a day or so after bringing them home. Look for leaves that are crisp and vibrant and store the greens, unwashed and refrigerated in a plastic bag before using. Wash the greens well right before preparing, to get rid of any dirt or pests in the nooks and crannies.
The next time you bring home a bunch of colorful beets or turnip roots, save the tops. Consider cooking them or adding them to a salad -- or more -- for flavor and nutrients. And with the current focus on combating food waste, you might even feel virtuous -- deservedly so.
PASTA WITH SPIGARELLO, BACON AND GARLIC
30 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.
1 pound bucatini or linguini pasta
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 slices applewood-smoked bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch strips
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 (1-pound) bunch spigarello (or other winter greens such as escarole, kale or chard, trimmed and torn into 3- to 4-inch strips)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh lemon juice, for serving
Shaved or grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the vegetable oil and cook the pasta
to al dente following the manufacturer's instructions. Drain the pasta, spreading it out onto a rimmed baking sheet, set aside while preparing the rest of the recipe.
In the same pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Strain the bacon from the fat in the pan, and drain the excess fat, leaving only 3 tablespoons fat in the pot. Stir in the garlic, then the greens, a handful at a time. Continue stirring until all of the greens have been added and are wilted.
Stir the bacon back in with the greens, then the pasta, tossing to evenly combine the pasta and flavorings. Season with a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper.
Divide the pasta among warmed shallow bowls, topping each portion with a squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish each plate with Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve immediately.
Each of 8 servings, without garnish
Calories 377; Protein 12 g; carbohydrates 47 g; fiber 3 g; fat 16 g; saturated fat 4 g; cholesterol 13 mg; sugar 2 g; sodium 172 mg
HAND PIES WITH MUSTARD GREENS AND SPANISH CHORIZO
1 hour, 20 minutes, plus chilling time. Makes 12 pies
4 1/2 cups (19.2 ounces) flour
Generous 2 teaspoons salt, plus more for seasoning the filling
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup cold shortening
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
4 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
8 to 12 tablespoons ice water, more if needed
1 (1-pound) bunch mustard greens, trimmed and washed
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 ounces Spanish chorizo, diced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 large boiling potato, cut into 1/4-inch dice (peeled or unpeeled)
1 cup chicken broth, divided
1 1/2 cups grated Manchego cheese
2 eggs, beaten
Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and sugar. Add the shortening and incorporate using a pastry cutter or fork (the dough will look like moist sand). Cut in the butter just until it is reduced to pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle the vinegar and 8 tablespoons water over the mixture, and stir together until the ingredients are combined to form a dough. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until it comes together in a single mass. If the dough is too crumbly and dry, gently work in additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Mold the dough into a disk roughly 8 inches in diameter. Cover the disk tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the greens to the water and boil until they're tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the greens, then shock in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain again and run through a salad spinner to remove any excess water. Chop the greens coarsely and set aside.
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Stir in the chorizo and cook until it is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the white wine and simmer, stirring to scrape any flavoring from the bottom of the pan, until the wine is almost completely evaporated or absorbed. Remove from heat and spoon the filling into a bowl.
In the same pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the potato and cook, stirring frequently, until it just begins to brown. Stir in ½ cup broth. Cover the pan and steam the potato until the pieces are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the greens and remaining broth and cook, stirring frequently, until the broth and any liquid from the greens are almost completely absorbed, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir the potatoes and greens in with the chorizo mixture. Stir in the cheese. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the filling until it is chilled, about 1 hour.
Divide the prepared pie dough into 12 even pieces, about 3 ounces each, and shape each into a small disk. On a lightly floured board, carefully roll each piece into a circle about 6 inches in diameter and about one-eighth-inch thick. The dough will be flaky and will probably crack on the edges; without working the dough too much, gently mold the dough with your hands as it's rolled to form as perfect a circle as possible. Carefully set the circle aside and continue rolling until all of the circles are formed.
Assemble the hand pies: Brush the inside of each circle with a very light coating of beaten egg, brushing all the way to the edge of the circle. Place roughly one-fourth cup of the filling in the center of each circle, slightly off to one side (to make it easier to fold over the dough to form the hand pie), but leaving a 1-inch border around the edge on one side. Carefully -- this can be tricky -- fold over half of the dough, lining up the edges to form a half-circle; you may need to support the dough as it's folded over to keep it from cracking. Gently press down the edges to seal the pie. Trim the edges to clean them up, or gently brush the top of the edge of each pie, then fold the edge in again for a cleaner-looking side. Continue until all of the pies are formed.
Place the prepared pies on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate them, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the chilled pies and brush them with the egg wash. Use a small knife to slash 2 to 3 small steam vents in the top of each pie.
Bake the pies on the center rack until the pastry is puffed and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Rotate the pies halfway through baking for even coloring. Cool on a rack. The pies can be served warm or at room temperature.
50 minutes. Serves 6
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1/2 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, 1 minced, 1 smashed, divided
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1 sprig thyme, plus leaves from 3 sprigs thyme, divided
1 sprig rosemary
8 canned plum tomatoes, plus juices
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
2 bunches Swiss chard, center ribs removed
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, divided
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, divided
Pinch dried oregano, divided
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Sweat the onion, minced garlic, red pepper flakes and paprika for 3 minutes. Stir in the peppers, thyme and rosemary sprigs and continue to cook for 5 minutes to marry the flavors. Add the tomatoes, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper, and simmer until the peppers are soft and the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes (try to leave the tomatoes intact).
When the tomato mixture is almost ready, cook the chard: In a large cast-iron skillet heated over medium-high heat, melt the butter along with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Add the smashed garlic, Swiss chard, a generous 1/4 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper and saute until the chard is wilted, about 4 minutes. Remove and discard the rosemary and thyme sprigs from the tomato mixture, then spoon it over the cooked chard. Make 6 little indentations and break the eggs into them. Sprinkle over half of the thyme, parsley and tarragon leaves, as well as half of the oregano.
Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the yolks are just set, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle over the remaining herbs and serve immediately.