The New York Times article about an American kale enthusiast trying to win mystified Parisians over to her favorite greens brought scoffs from online foodie friends. “Kale is so passé,” said one. Not exactly–many a trendy menu still sports a kale salad or risotto. But it does seem like time to move on.
Not to some entirely new craze (although rutabagas have been waiting a long time for their moment), but to other deserving greens. In the spirit of the farmers market shopper in the photo, don’t think too hard about it. Just load them in your basket.
Before talking about what to do with those greens, let’s establish that I’m not a kale hater. I have a kale-strewn potful of minestrone in my fridge right now and, at least once a year, I make ribollita, the robust bread soup that calls for cavolo nero, a variety of kale known to gardeners as lacinato and to many Americans as Tuscan kale. I also make a killer Tuscan pesto by blending the grey-green leaves with browned onions and walnuts.
I’ve never met a kale chip I liked, though–at best, they just taste of salt and at worst, a bit acrid. Kale smoothies? Ewwww. My daughters make a tasty kale salad with raisins, walnuts and pecorino cheese, but I’ve never been moved to make it myself.
Maybe it’s a generational thing but mostly I don’t get the appeal of raw kale. I’d rather cook it. And that goes for other bitter greens: dandelion greens (wild and cultivated), chicory, mustard greens, collard greens.
Unless they are young and tender, bitter greens are often blanched to moderate their pungency. But some of the nutrients go down the drain. In Sicily I learned a different trick: Mix bitter greens with milder varieties such as spinach, chard, escarole or beet greens.
Southern Italians also eat tenerumi, the leaves and shoots of wildly twisted squash called cucuzza or zucchina serpente. Braise in just a little water.
Usually I serve these greens as a side dish, but they could also be used as a bruschetta topping, ravioli or quiche filling, or base for a poached egg.
- 1 bunch or large bag bitter greens such as chicory, dandelion greens, mustard greens or kale prepared for cooking*
- 1 bunch or large bag milder greens such as chard, spinach, escarole or beet greens spinach, eprepared for cooking*
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 2 or 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Red hot pepper flakes to taste
- White wine vinegar or lemon wedges
Working in batches, cover the greens with water in a large bowl or salad spinner (work in batches as necessary); after several minutes, lift them out. Repeat with fresh water until the discarded water is free of grit. (If using trimmed, washed greens, skip this step!)
In a skillet or broad saucepan large enough to hold the greens, cook the garlic in the olive oil over medium-low heat until fragrant but not browned. Add 1/4 cup water and pile the greens on top. Cover and cook until wilted, stirring to coat greens with the oil; continue to cook until very tender, 15 to 30 minutes altogether.
Season to taste with salt and red pepper flakes. Pass vinegar or a bowl of lemon wedges at the table.
- Prepare dandelion greens and chicory for cooking by trimming the lower stems and cutting the upper parts crosswise in 1- inch lengths. Thick chard or kale stems should be stripped away and used for another purpose (such as vegetable broth); cut leaves crosswise in strips. Tender greens such as spinach are simply cut crosswise in strips.
- Variation: In step #2, saute 1/4 cup finely diced pancetta in the olive oil until most of the fat has been rendered; add the garlic and proceed with the remainder of the recipe.