It happens every summer. It first happens around late June. You’re contemplating what to make for dinner and repeatedly allow yourself to become distracted because you know they’re there …in the fridge…or the garden…mocking you.
Greens. You bought or grew them because they’re inexpensive per serving, they’re easy to grow and they’re just sooooo good for you! And you swore that this summer you’d eat more salad.
But what’s on that salad? There’s no law that says there has to be tomato. Or cucumber or anything else. One of the best salads I ever had was a bed of Romaine topped with skinless grapefruit segments, shaved red onion, boneless sardines and balsamic vinegar. That having been said…
What if salad is the problem?
That bag of “Spring Mix” or it’s equivalent from the garden is all well and fine in a salad, but it reaches it’s full glory in a skillet. Here is a classic Tuscan concept (that might have been invented in an American restaurant, who knows?).
Warning: My recipes contain a lot of eyeballing. Take a moment and accept it.
Tuscan Sautéed Greens
1/3 Cup or so raisins
1 T lightly chopped pignoli (pine nuts) – optional but heavenly
2-3 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic,minced. (Please don’t use pre-minced from a jar. It’s often bitter. And just so sad.)
12-16 oz bag of Spring Mix or same amount of homegrown mixed greens (Caveat: careful of too much arugula. It can overpower. Kale needs a little more cooking time unless it’s baby kale, and lettuce should barely touch the skillet. Okay that was 3 caveats, so sue me.)
1) Place raisins in about a cup of very hot water, set aside. Don’t fully reconstitute, just “plump”.
2) Toast pignoli in dry skillet until light golden brown. Careful, they burn quickly. Remove from skillet and set aside.
3) Turn up skillet to medium-high. Add oil and allow to heat until oil ripples, about a minute. Do not use ” high”. That’s just for boiling water.
4) Add garlic and sauté for about a minute till light golden brown.
5) Add greens and toss just until wilted, not cooked.
6) Add drained raisins and pignoli, toss.
This is fantastic next to any pasta dish and lots of meats and casseroles. But why stop there? Make extra and and use as an ingredient in other things ( “repurpose” in restaurant-speak):
- Chop and apply to mini toast as hors d’oeuvres
- Stuff into large shell pasta or roll up in lasagne noodles and bake in red or white sauce
- Use as a layer in traditional or pumpkin lasagna
- Fold into an omelet
- Add to a hot turkey sandwich
- Add white beans, garbanzo beans or pasta and make it a whole meal
- Use as a bed for oven roasted root vegetables
You can even use it as what I call “sad soup fixer”. Stir it into a not-so-fabulous soup that needs some help rather than adding salt or cheese.
That brings me to a peeve of mine about soup. Ever notice that with just a handful of exceptions, most notably Portuguese Kale soup, greens in soup are usually a third-rate afterthought? You’re served an otherwise respectable bowlful and there they are…three little shreds of spinach or cabbage…lurking apologetically off to the side.
I object! Soup Greens have nothing for which to apologize!
When I was a kid, I worked in a restaurant that sold “Tomato Florentine Soup”. It was amazing. It tasted like pizza! It was in-your-face-spinachy with an aggressive amount of basil. But, alas, it was a commercial frozen concentrate so the ingredients were a mystery.
I tried lots of recipes (before and after the internet), a lot of which started with brand-which-shall-not-be-named tomato soup concentrate. Eewwww. I was finally forced to recreate it myself:
Tomato Florentine soup
1-2 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, minced.
1 t. dried oregano
Pinch dried thyme
1 can (28 oz) diced/crushed tomatoes in purée. If using tomatoes in juice, add 2 T paste.
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 cups Beef stock
1/2 cup uncooked ditalini, small shells, elbows or other spoonable pasta
1/2 cup fresh or frozen Italian green beans (optional)
About 12 oz. fresh baby spinach or bigger spinach roughly chopped. All stems removed.
Basil leaves – About 6 large or equal amount smaller leaves chopped or chiffonade (rolled up and sliced in ribbons). You can start with less and add more later if you like.
1-2 T good balsamic vinegar (Note: avoid balsamic vinegars whose labels include words like blend, condiment, drizzle, glaze, etc. That’s a lot like “cheese food product”.)
Parmesan cheese for garnish
1) Heat oil on medium heat in large stockpot. Sauté onions 2 minutes, add garlic, and sauté another 2-3 min until both are tender.
2) Add dry herbs, both stocks and tomatoes. Bring to a boil.
3) Add pasta and beans, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer till pasta is tender, about 10 minutes.
4) Turn off heat and stir in spinach and basil. Cover and let rest 5 min. Add balsamic vinegar and serve topped with cheese.
Just as with the Tuscan Sautéed Greens, the addition of soup beans or extra pasta makes this a whole, healthy meal. But if you want leftover soup, cook the pasta separately and reduce simmer time to 5 minutes.
Those are just 2 possibilities to get you started. All kinds of soups and sautés are greens-friendly. One of the best soup cookbooks out there is The Big Book of Soups and Stews by Maryana Vollstedt. Any Jamie Oliver book is also a good place for recipes using greens. Quiche, frittata and savory pies/tarts are another rich source of experimentation. Be brave! Unless its burned, there is no failed savory experiment that can’t be made edible by the application of bacon, cheese, or gravy.
So take that, you smarmy salad bowl!
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