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(Left to right: Christophe Hille is the Chief Operating Officer, Hadley Schmitt is the Executive Chef, and Chris Ronis is the Managing Partner of Northern Spy Food Co. in New York, New York.)
There’s much high-minded talk in the food world about eating “mostly plants” (per Mr. Michael Pollan’s counsel), but judging from the slick of animal grease on our collective food biz lips, we’re deep in the throes of a meat moment. Meatballs, meatopias, and meat weeks; the cottage industry of top-ten burger lists (as a college professor once said to me in a different context, “I think we’ve taken enough rides on that pony”); and around every corner, another young cook with tattoos of cleavers, solemnly cutting up a pig (note to the non-cook reader: it’s not that hard.)
Our mid-winter redemption for editorial and gustatory carno-chauvinism lies in greenery. Dark, sulfurous, bitter greens, to excise the sins of the flesh and remind ourselves that while any shoemaker with salt, a Boston butt and an oven can make a passable pulled pork sandwich, it is through vegetables that cooks show intelligence and intuition.
To wit: five different ways to eat your greens this winter (not necessarily vegetarian, mind you). The methods are adapted from things currently or recently on our menu at Northern Spy, which in no way means that they’re inviolable. Mess ‘em up. Put the kale where the chard goes and vice versa.
Five Ways to Cook and Eat Dark Greens in Winter
Garnish with reasonable amounts of excellent crumbled cheddar for funk, chopped toasted almonds for crunch and roasted winter squash for oomph. Season to your liking with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Top with a dusting of grated pecorino or similarly pungent cheese. This salad holds up very well, so make a big bowl full and pick at it all day.
2. Roasted broccoli
Cool and toss with lemon juice and grated lemon zest, and more salt and oil if they seem to be asking for it. Take or make some mayonnaise and mix it with an unreasonable amount of finely chopped tarragon, parsley and chives. Alternately, mix up some pimento cheese, which is having a mini-moment of its own. Organize a game of euchre, eat liberally and remember that broccoli is no wallflower.
3. Braised collards
Pitch in the collards and stir them until wilted. Sprinkle with a splash of sherry vinegar and a smattering of salt. Add enough water to barely cover (or, if you happen to be flush with meat broth, use that instead) and simmer and stir and salt some more until the greens are tender and perfect.
These are best after sitting for a while on your counter and perfuming the kitchen with their inimitably dank smell.
4. Wilted dandelions
Find yourself a bunch of youngish dandelion greens. Wash, dry and chop into two-inch chunks. Put those into a bowl along with a good sprinkling of toasted crushed hazelnuts.
Take a peeled shallot and slice it (longitudinally, or tip-to-tail) into paper-thin slivers. Slide a couple of tablespoons of butter into a small saucepan. Cook swiftly, swirling the butter as it melts, then foams, and then begins to brown. As soon as it turns the color of medium-roast coffee and smells like inside of the Lu factory, add the shallots. Stir to wilt and toss onto the greens.
Mix the lot vigorously, drizzle with a conservative amount of cider vinegar and season with salt and pepper. These are to be eaten right then and there, while the butter is still hot and its aroma fills your nostrils.
5. Swiss chard
Wash and drain more green or Swiss chard than seems practicable (because it will reduce by orders of magnitude). Bring a large cauldron of water to the boil and add enough salt that it tastes of the Mediterranean (as in, salty, yo!). Add the greens to the pot, stir so they all wilt into the water, and leave them be for two or three minutes (if your stove is a milquetoast, cover the pot).
Remove the greens to a bath of icy water just long enough to be able to handle them. Drain, squeeze out the excess water, chop coarsely, and set aside.
Either before, during, or after the blanching, make the sofrito or battuto that your culture or predilection requires (onions, garlic, chiles, anchovies, carrots, and/or tomato paste, etc., seasoned with salt and fried up in ample olive oil or butter until wickedly tasty).
Mix the blanched chard with enough sofrito that the latter’s flavor is carried but the greens aren’t overwhelmed. Add a knob of butter to make it creamier and season with a grating of nutmeg because it’s winter. If you have performed the kata correctly, the chard will be good enough to serve with some meat, if you must. Performed exquisitely, it will be good enough to eat unaccompanied.
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