Sunday, April 27, 2008

How Green is My Alley

Late April in the alley bed: a bit of this and that
Although far from fully local in my eating, I have cut way back this winter and spring on the purchase of perishable food from far away. (A master’s thesis topic for someone: A writer’s repetitive diet makes for much alliteration.)

That means that I’m paying more attention to my homegrown spring greens, which also means I’m getting a bit tired of mustard greens. I have a lot of them. They were in a mesclun mix I planted last spring, and since I’m not all that crazy about that flavor in salads, a lot of them stayed on in the alley box to reseed.

Right now I have kale, a bit of arugula, some fall-seeded chard that is just getting going, the last of the leeks, beet greens, lots and lots of corn salad, and that mustard. Usually the early lettuce and spinach would be salad-ready by now, but the cold weather has slowed it down. Except for the mustard and corn salad, there isn’t enough of any one thing to make a meal, and I don’t want a full meal’s worth of either of those worthy greens. Also, I’m busy lately, so pretty much anything I cook needs to be either really fast or something I can make in quantity.

So here are some places I’ve stashed quantities of mixed greens lately.
Lentil soup--Like minestrone, lentil soup can absorb huge quantities of greens without overpowering the taste.

Lasagna--My spinach lasagna has become mustard/chard/kale/beet-green lasagna. I haven’t heard any complaints.

Spinach Rice Pie--This version isn’t spinach and it isn’t actually a pie, but it’s still good. The original recipe is from Winter Harvest.
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3 pounds fresh mixed greens
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup pancetta or bacon, cubed (optional)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 cup rice, preferably Arborio or some other risotto variety
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
4 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped marjoram (use less if you are substituting the strong flavored winter-hardy oregano) or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper

Simmer broth over low heat. Discard any tough stems from the greens and steam the leaves until soft. Time will vary with the type of greens. I like to cook them in a heavy skillet with a just a splash more than the water they were washed in. Remove from heat, chop, and press excess moisture into the broth. It’s way too good to waste. Heat olive oil in over medium heat and add pancetta or bacon (if used), onion, and garlic. Sauté 5-10 minutes until onion is limp. Mix in rice and cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Reduce heat, return greens to skillet, and bring to a slow simmer. Cook, adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and allowing rice to absorb the broth before adding more. This will take 20 to 25 minutes. The rice should be creamy. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch quiche dish or pie pan and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Shake off excess crumbs and reserve for topping.

Combine eggs, Parmesan, marjoram, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl and beat will. Stir in rice mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning. Spoon into quiche dish or pie pan, spreading evenly. Sprinkle top with remaining bread crumbs. Bake until firm but not dry, about 45 minutes to an hour. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Greens and Pasta: Change the heat source; change the flavor.

This is more a procedure than a recipe. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take a mess of greens, wash them, and tear into bite-size pieces. Put a little olive oil on your hands and rub them through the greens to coat very lightly. Arrange greens on a cookie sheet. For less oil and easier cleanup, put them on baker’s parchment or maybe one of those pricy but very cool silicone mats. (I got mine at Pacific Chef in Fairhaven.) Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and put in the oven. Check after 5 minutes and keep checking frequently. You want the greens to start to get crispy and brown on the edges but not burnt black. Remove from oven when you’ve hit that point.

Meanwhile, boil water for pasta. I like to use whole wheat shells, but any smallish pasta works. Add the pasta and cook until just a bit too al dente. Toss in the greens and cook another minute. Drain, return to saucepan, and add some chopped savory black olives. I like the oil-cured ones from the Food Co-op.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a dribble of olive oil. Serve grated Parmesan or Romano on the side. I was surprised how little cheese it took to bring this very simple dish into focus.

All the while I've been writing this, I've had the current crisis in skyrocketing food prices on my mind. Part of me wants to chide every newly affluent Chinese or Indian eater who is devoting disposable income to, say, corn-fed beef, and therefore contributing to desperation in Haiti and $4.50 a loaf bread prices for me. Another part of me is thinking--if I consider it a challenge to stay interested in one type of vegetable for more than a few weeks at a time, how on earth can I judge someone else who wants some new flavors in their kitchen? When something is both a basic necessity and an endlessly refinable pleasure, it's never going to be simple to do the right thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like your way of thinking~ eat/buy local. But one question has always nagged at me while contemplating "buying local"...
Is buying local, buying within Bellingham, within Whatcom, within Western Washington, within Washington state?
Just who does define what buying local means?