Posts tagged greens

Finally. . .Ramps!

I’m not sure if you remember, but last spring I wrote a rather pathetic post about my futile search for ramps. I had never tasted these coveted spring onions before, and visits to both my neighborhood and Union Square farmers’ markets were busts. Reading other bloggers rave on and on about ramps without knowing what was so special about them spun me into a ramp-related tizzy, and I remained so for the rest of 2009.

Well, I can finally relax. Over the weekend Jim came home with a bag of these slender greens from one of our local fruit and vegetable stands. With the help of this recipe, we took some whole-wheat dough out of the freezer and layered the ramps into a quick pizza bianca. With just olive oil, mozzarella, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese acting as the base of the pie, Jim and I were able to revel in the pure, onion-like flavors of spring’s first sprouts.

While I’m happy to declare the end of my ramp-infused innocence, I’m not sure I understand the frenzy that begins when ramps hit the farmers’ market every year. Sure, they are only available for a few short weeks in early spring. And I understand that by the time ramps arrive everyone is sick of winter root vegetables and any sign of fresh spring vegetables is a welcome relief. But the fetishization of ramps seems to have reached a fever pitch in the past few years; David Kamp, the author of The United States of Arugula, agrees. He recently declared ramps the new arugula, in the way this formerly little known food product was once over celebrated and scrutinized back in the eighties. Last week Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post went further and said ramps are simply overrated. Of course, these are just a few dissenting voices in a sea of ramp enthusiasts, so I suppose I should keep my griping to a minimum.

What do you think, readers? Do ramps deserve the hype? Am I just a grump? Don’t answer that last question…

Recipe for Pizza with Ramps (adapted from The Kitchen Sink Recipes)

  • 1 ball of your favorite pizza dough, white or whole-wheat
  • salt
  • 1 bunch of ramps, washed, with the bottoms trimmed
  • cornmeal
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated
  • a small amount of grated parmesan cheese (less than 1/4 cup)
  • freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. (I use a pizza stone, so I am basing this recipe on this method.) Place your pizza stone in the oven so it can preheat.

While your pizza stone heats, put a medium size pot of salted water on the stove to boil. While you wait for the water to boil, roll out your pizza dough into a circle on a floured surface.

When the water is boiling, add the ramps. Let them boil for a minute or two, then drain and set aside.

Remove your pizza stone from the oven and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Place your circle of dough on a pizza peal. Brush it with olive oil. Sprinkle it with the mozzarella cheese. Place the ramps on top of the cheese so that they radiate out from the center of the pie. Sprinkle the pie with parmesan cheese. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil across the top of the pie. Season with black pepper. Carefully transfer the pie to your pizza stone.

Bake the pizza for about 10-15 minutes. Remove it from the oven when ready and top with another tablespoon of olive oil. Let it cool for about 5 minutes before cutting. Serves 3 to 4 people. Enjoy!

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Cooking from the CSA: Collard Greens

After almost three years of writing this blog, I have finally realized something fairly obvious: When I come across a food-related issue I’m excited about—no matter whether it’s a restaurant, recipe, or trend—I need to write about it immediately. Putting the story on the back burner just never works; the struggle to get my words down becomes more intense, convoluted, and difficult.

Take this post, for example. I’ve wanted to tell you about the great fun I had last month cooking collard greens for the first time. Did you hear that—I cooked them last month! Twice! But first I decided to write about that farro soup I made sometime in October. And then I didn’t have any time to blog last week or over the weekend. So before I knew it, even more time had passed, the collard greens were a faint memory, and I dreaded trying to write about them. But while blogging about them was hard, it doesn’t mean I enjoyed the collards any less. Here, I’ll try to remember everything that happened:

When I received my first bunch of this floppy, wide-leafed vegetable from my CSA, I had no idea what to do with it. I knew collard greens were often used in Southern cooking, and a little research confirmed that they are traditionally cooked for a couple of hours, perhaps with some ham hocks, and served as a side. Not that this is necessary—further reading confirmed that a 30 to 45 minute simmer is usually enough to adequately soften the leaves. As with many greens, collards are high in several vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and C, and potassium. With all this good news about collards, I started to wonder why I hadn’t worked with them before.

For my first attempt at cooking them, I tried this spicy white bean and sweet potato soup. (Another reason why I need to blog about these meals right away: Weeks later, I can’t find any of my photos of this soup. And it was truly gorgeous, a beautiful mix of vibrant colors. Sigh.) The thick greens held their own against the other hearty elements in this sweet yet spicy soup, and I strutted through my apartment afterwards, proud of myself for creating a successful meal with this foreign vegetable.

But then I received another bunch just two weeks later in my CSA shipment. While I briefly contemplated another soup, I really wanted to try something different. I guess great minds think alike, because that week both Mark Bittman and I decided to use these leaves as wrappers. Mr. Bittman encased Middle Eastern-inspired meatballs in his collard greens, while I adapted Claudia Roden’s recipe for hot dolma, using collards instead of grape leaves.

The process of making hot dolma is not much different from making cold ones, and using fresh collard greens instead of jarred grape leaves makes the process much simpler. (Jarred leaves require soaking, which fresh ones do not.) After blanching the leaves for a few minutes, I simply stuffed them with a mix of rice, ground lamb, spices, and tomato paste. Then, after an additional hour on the stovetop, they were ready.

Jim and I ate them for dinner, eagerly biting into the compact little bundles of spiced rice and meat. The lemony collards yielded easily to the tomato-spiked rice mixture inside, and I just couldn’t get enough of this sturdy, versatile, and healthy green. Although it was a struggle to write about these collard greens, there’s no way I could forget about them.

Recipe for Hot Dolma with Collard Greens (adapted from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food)

  • 1 bunch of large collard greens

For the filling:

  • 1/2 cup long-grain rice
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • 1 small tomato, peeled and chopped (We actually just chopped up a bunch of cherry tomatoes, and they worked fine.)
  • 1/2 white onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • salt and pepper

For the pans/cooking time:

  • 1/2 tomato, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, slivered
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Prepare your collard greens. Wash them thoroughly under running water, and remove the stem from the bottom of each leaf. Simmer the leaves in boiling water for about 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Blot the leaves dry and let them cool completely. Then cut the leaf into 3 equal pieces: Slice once across the top of the leaf, and set the top aside. Then cut the remaining part of the leaf in half, discarding the thick center stem. Continue with the rest of the leaves.

Wash the rice in boiling water, then rinse under cold water and drain. In a large bowl, mix the rice with the ground meat, chopped tomato, onion, parsley, cinnamon, tomato paste, salt, and pepper.

Now stuff your collard leaves with the mixture. Take one slice of the collard leaves, and place it on a flat surface, vein side up. Place about 1 1/2 small spoonfuls of the rice mixture in the center of the leaf. Fold the end over the filling. Fold the sides of the leaf in towards the middle, and the roll the leaf upwards. Make sure the sides of the leaf continue to fold inward as you roll the leaf upwards. Repeat with the rest of the leaves. Set aside.

Line the bottom of a large, high-sided sauté pan or one Dutch oven with the sliced tomatoes. Tightly pack the grape leaves into one layer, on top of the tomatoes. Slip the garlic cloves in between the rolls if desired. Sprinkle the bundles with lemon juice, and add about 2/3 cup water to the pan.

Place a small plate on top of the leaves to prevent them from possibly unwinding. Cover the pan with a lid, set the heat to low, and simmer gently for about an hour. Roden’s book suggests adding small cups of water if the pans run out of liquid, but I did not have this problem. Serve hot. We made about 20 dolma with this recipe. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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So Many Greens, So Little Time

Every two weeks, I grab a handful of plastic bags from the cupboard and stroll a few blocks over to my CSA pick-up spot. Immediately upon arrival I survey the bounty of vegetables I’m about to receive. The best weeks offer a large variety: perhaps a few zucchini, a head of lettuce, maybe some tomatoes, corn, string beans, or peppers. Usually I can barely contain my excitement as I start to fill my bags with produce, eagerly looking forward to the dishes I will cook that week.

But this year’s unpredictable weather has lead to an abundance of greens from my CSA. Arugula, spinach, bok choy, lettuce, kale, chard, you name it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against leafy vegetables. But receiving multiple bags of greens at once, all of which need to be eaten quickly before they wilt, presents a daunting challenge, especially when you hate wasting food like I do.

Last Saturday’s pick-up was one of those oh-my-goodness-how-will-I-finish-these-greens moments. When I arrived home and examined my haul on the kitchen table, I was faced with overflowing bags of bok choy, arugula, and chard, not to mention a huge head of romaine lettuce. How on earth were Jim and I going to eat all of these greens before they spoiled in a few days?

shrimp

1. Bok Choy, Brussels Sprouts, and Shrimp Stir-Fry
We didn’t waste any time. On Saturday night we whipped up a quick stir-fry using the bok choy, some week-old brussels sprouts leaves from the farmers’ market, and shrimp. Jim created a light sauce using sesame oil, rice vinegar, and soy sauce, and we also seasoned the dish with fresh garlic and ginger. The slightly sweet sauce perfectly complemented both the meaty shrimp and the crisp, healthy greens. For a very off-the-cuff sort of meal, we were pleasantly surprised by its success.

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2. Arugula Spanakopita
When I took my massive bunch of arugula out of the fridge on Sunday, it was already starting to wilt. Fortunately we had already planned to use these peppery greens in some spanakopita appetizers for the Sunday football games. In our version of this Greek snack, we replaced its traditional spinach-based filling with arugula. After some slicing and folding of filo dough, these bite-size, flaky triangles of ricotta, feta, and chopped arugula were quickly assembled on Sunday morning, and devoured just as quickly a few hours later.

chard

3. Italian-Style Swiss Chard
As a finale to our weekend of greens, on Sunday night after the football games I blanched and sautéed the swiss chard as a side dish to some lovely braised short ribs my sister and her husband prepared for us. Lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, the chard was a fresh, simple side dish to accompany the rich beef ribs.

So that was our weekend marathon of greens. I think we did a pretty admirable job with them, don’t you? We’re still working our way through that head of romaine lettuce, eating salads as quickly as we can. I’m optimistic that we’ll make it to the finish line without wasting any food, just in time for our next CSA challenge.

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Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Vegetable Pies

veggiepie01

I’m starting to think of Martha Rose Shulman as my personal hero. Those may be strong words to describe the author of the Recipes for Health section of the New York Times, but Shulman’s seasonal and healthy recipes—which often focus on one ingredient per week, prepared in myriad ways—never fail to inspire me. I’ve been hooked ever since I tried her sweet potato and butternut squash soup over the winter, and then her light and healthy Swiss chard lasagna a month later. Now I check out her column eagerly, every week, just to see what she’s up to.

A few weeks ago, Shulman published an article about Mediterranean vegetable pies. She describes these pies, which stuff seasonal produce, eggs, and cheese into pastry shells or phyllo dough, as wonderful ways to utilize seasonal produce in vegetarian main dishes. In addition to providing a recipe for an intriguing whole wheat pastry dough, she lists four different pie variations. I printed out every recipe, and couldn’t wait for an opportunity to try them. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait very long.

Last weekend I came home from my CSA pick-up overloaded with greens. I had piles of spinach, kale, and bok choy, as well as two small zucchini, snow peas, and garlic scapes. I always fear that the vegetables I receive from my CSA will wilt before I have a chance to use them, so I decided to cook as many as possible into one of Shulman’s vegetable pies. And although the recipes didn’t address all my ingredients specifically, I hoped that they were flexible enough to accommodate some variations. Using Shulman’s recipe for a Provençal zucchini and Swiss chard tart as my guide, I combined the spinach, kale, and zucchini with Gruyère cheese and fresh eggs that I had picked up at the farmers’ market.

veggiepie02

As Shulman had claimed, the pie was indeed a bit time-consuming to make, but it was totally worth the effort. I rolled out the pliable whole wheat dough easily, which created a light and crumbly base for my egg and vegetable mixture. When I pulled the tart from the oven an hour later, flecks of rustic greens were supported by a sea of brilliant yellow eggs, presenting a farm-fresh meal that I couldn’t get enough of. Hot from the oven, the pie was an airy and gently tasty main dish. I brought slices of it to work for lunch all week, eating it at room temperature and almost enjoying it more that way.

So do you see why Martha Rose Shulman is my hero? I don’t need her to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but now I rely on her for delicious recipes that also happen to be healthy. It’s a lot of pressure for one person, but I am sure she can handle it.

Recipe for Spinach, Kale, and Zucchini Tart (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe for a Provençal Zucchini and Swiss Chard Tart in the New York Times Recipes for Health section)

  • 1 lb of spinach, washed
  • 1/2 lb kale, washed, leaves picked off from the stems and thick ribs cut out
  • salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 small zucchini, cut into a small dice
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Gruyère cheese, grated
  • 3 large eggs
  • freshly ground pepper

While the dough is rising, prepare the vegetables. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a separate bowl full of ice water. When the water in the pot reaches a rolling boil, add salt and the kale leaves. After 30 seconds or so, add the spinach leaves. Blanch for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the greens to the ice water, then drain. Squeeze out excess water from the greens and chop them. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, stirring, for about five minutes. Stir in the zucchini and season to taste with salt. Cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme. Cook everything together until the garlic is fragrant, about one or two minutes. Stir in the greens, toss everything together, and remove the pan from the heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt (to taste), the greens and zucchini mixture, and the cheese. Mix together and add a bit of pepper for seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out two-thirds of the dough very thin, and line the pan, with the edges of the dough overhanging. Freeze the leftover dough. Fill the dough shell with the greens and zucchini mixture. Pinch the edges of the dough along the rim of the pan. Place in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, until the mixture is set and beginning to color. Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. This tart can also be served at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10 people. Enjoy!

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Rampless Risotto

risotto

What are the most obvious signs of spring? Some might say the flowering trees and plants; others celebrate the arrival of warmer temperatures and lighter jackets. But in the world of food blogs, spring means one thing: ramps.

Food bloggers love these mild spring onions. Once they are sighted at farmers’ markets, new posts about ramps fill my RSS reader, almost to the exclusion of anything else. Ramps in pasta, ramps on pizza, ramps, ramps, ramps. I’m sure there are many good reasons for this unabashed ramp love, but I don’t understand it—I’ve never tried a single ramp. I don’t know how I’ve survived in this rampless state until now, but I sure hope I don’t get banned from food blogging because of it. 

In fact, starting last weekend I did everything I could to cure my ramp-related ignorance. Jim had picked up a local flyer advertising that last week’s farmers’ market would be “all about ramps.” On Sunday morning, with my shopping bag slung over my shoulder, I bounded down my apartment steps and made my way to the Carroll Gardens market. I went straight to the W. Rogowski farm stand and searched earnestly between the piles of lettuce, spinach, and green onions.

“Excuse me, do you have ramps today?” I asked, a hint of worry creeping into my voice.

“No, I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to go down to the swamp to look for them this week,” responded a harried-looking Cheryl Rogowski. “But we do have watercress.”

Boo. Boo on watercress. I sighed and bought some asparagus, swiss chard, and green garlic instead.

But I wasn’t ready to give up on my ramps. On Monday morning I headed to the Union Square Farmers’ Market. At 8 am. Before work. In the rain. 

I walked around and around the market. I saw more asparagus, and I saw more watercress. I spied bread, greens, and flowers.

But no ramps. 

And then, my friends, I gave up. 

That evening at home, I took the spring risotto recipe that I had planned to make with ramps and shifted the ingredients around a bit. The original recipe called for a ramp and swiss chard pesto to be stirred into a risotto of asparagus, fava beans, and peas. Instead of using ramps in the pesto, I chopped some leeks with the swiss chard. I didn’t have any fava beans, and I hate peas, so I concentrated on the asparagus and green garlic that I had purchased the day before. And in the end, even without ramps, I created two beautiful and creamy plates of risotto. Each lemony forkful was full of fresh, green specks of seasonal goodness. I’m not giving up on ramps for good, but with them or without them, spring has definitely arrived. 

Recipe for Spring Risotto with Asparagus, Green Garlic, Swiss Chard, and Leeks (Adapted from the New York Times, April 23, 2008)

For the pesto:

  • 1 leek, cleaned and chopped
  • 3/4 cups packed swiss chard leaves
  • dash of salt
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

For the risotto:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallots
  • 3 sprigs of green garlic, minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • About 5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 6 to 10 rods of asparagus, sliced into 2-inch pieces
  • Parmesan cheese

For the pesto: Place the chopped leeks, swiss chard leaves, and salt in a small food processor or hand blender. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil. Season to taste. Set aside.

For the risotto: In a medium saucepan, bring your chicken or vegetable stock to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Add 1/2 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large pot. Once the butter has melted, add the green garlic and the shallots. Cook garlic and shallots together until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the rice. Stir the rice for a minute or two, until the edges become translucent.

Add the white wine to the pot, and stir the rice until it has absorbed most of the wine. You know the liquid has been absorbed when you can scrape your spoon through the rice and it sticks to the sides of the pan a bit, showing the bottom of the pan. 

Add a few spoonfuls of stock to the rice. I usually work with a ladle, and add 1 full ladle of stock at a time. Stir the rice until the liquid is absorbed, and then add some more stock. Stir the rice continuously. (Taking a few small breaks is fine.) Continue to add stock and stir the rice in this manner until the rice is al dente and quite creamy, about 18 to 20 minutes.

When the rice is about halfway done (at the 10-12 minute mark) add the asparagus to the pot. Continue to stir.

When the rice is done, remove it from the heat. Stir in the pesto. Stir in 1/2 tablespoon of butter and about 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, topped with grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 2. Enjoy!

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